Jaaleekaay first evolved during a visit to The Gambia in February 2013 by Steve Berry, an award winning guitarist, composer and producer from Byron Bay, NSW. Steve's Australian musical lineage goes back to the emergence of contemporary folk and world music in Australia in the 1980's, having mixed his musical DNA with some of the most innovative Australian acts in the genre, including Coolangubra, Kev Carmody, Shane Howard and Robyn Archer. Steve's month long immersion in The Gambia began with an invitation to visit the country by King Marong, a Gambian traditional master percussionist now living in Australia. Through King's many musical contacts in Gambia, Steve met the innovative young Kora player Amadou Suso, and through Amadou the Wolof singer Yusupha Ngum. From the special musical connection that followed, Jaaleekaay emerged.
Amadou Suso is today's generation’s direct line descendent of the very first Kora master who lived 760 years ago. Originating in Gambia, the Kora was first brought to the world by a man named Korea Musa Suso. As the traditional story goes, he met a woman from the underworld when, burdened with family stress, he went down to the beach to free his mind. The woman proved to him she was not a human being by turning herself into various animals - crocodiles, frogs and monkeys. She then told him to wait while she went to a small house and came back with a Kora. At that time it had only 7 strings, and she presented it to Korea Musa, telling him it would not only free his mind, but benefit him and his family for generations to come. Amadou Suso's lineage goes directly back to Korea Musa Suso, and born to the life of a musician, or Jaly, he lives true to his origins, combining a deep knowledge of Gambian traditional music with a passion for the contemporary possibilities of his own musical journey. In Jaaleekaay, Amadou is living out that passion and heritage.
Yusupha Ngum is a singer from the Senegambian tradition of Mbalax, which means 'Rhythm' in his first language of Wolof. Like Amadou, Yusupha's musical heritage has been handed down through his family. His father Musa Ngum, also a Mbalax singer of renown, is revered across Gambia and Senegal. Yusupha himself fronts an eight piece group which he leads as Joloffman, and after a series of hit records over the last ten years has become a great star and shining light in the resurgence of Mbalax as the national music of Gambia and the Senegambian region. Yusupha's expressive and authentic Wolof vocal style is a powerful musical force, and with Gambia having endured long periods of political and creative isolation since independence in 1965, he dreams of using his music to benefit his country, reconnecting The Gambia with the wider world as a creative and economically resurgent nation. In Jaaleekaay, the Crossing Point of two dynamic cultures, Yusupha carries and expresses this deep commitment.
Working in Australia to bring the trio to the international stage, Steve Berry sees his role with Jaaleekaay as a natural extension of his work with Music Outback Foundation, an organisation he founded in 2001. Music Outback uses music to help improve critical social outcomes on remote Aboriginal communities in outback Australia, and has grown to become a significant contributor to the Australian 'arts for social justice' family of organisations.
Now, with Jaaleekaay, Steve is helping evolve a different species of musical endeavour, one where top musicians from Western economies can connect with world-class musicians from developing countries such as Gambia and provide opportunities to expand across their geographical boundaries. Along with the beautiful and expressive music Jaaleekaay creates, the collaboration is building connections between Gambia and the global music scene and allowing Yusupha and Amadou's musical influence to disperse around the world. Such opportunities allow these talented and highly skilled musicians not only to develop their own unique gifts, but bring much needed financial gain back into their extended families and communities back home .