What if we told you the true origin of “hill country” blues might not be North Mississippi at all? That’s what Moja author Carl Gustafson discovered during his travels throughout West Africa. Listen as he describes his first trip to Mali, when he noticed that the Malians’ traditional folklore music was mysteriously similar to the sounds of North Mississippi blues. Master ngoni player Bassekou Kouyaté, who performs on the saga, assured Carl this style of music had been passed down for many generations in Mali by his ancestors, none of whom had ever been to America.
Upon his return to America, Carl had his good friend Bobby Rush connect him with the Burnside brothers, Duwayne and Garry, sons of the iconic blues icon R.L. Burnside. Carl recorded them in the studio for five minutes, their only instructions being to play in the key of C at 80bpm. After comparing the Burnside’s improvised jam session to a recording of the Mali folklore, Carl knew he had to make a song combining the two styles. He was blown away by the similarities between them, despite originating in two totally different continents. It wasn’t until after he wrote “Sunrise in Mali” that Carl learned from slave manifestos that a significant number of slaves from Mali ended up in North Mississippi, confirming what he already knew from simply following the music.