Afrissippi's central figure is Guelel Kumba , a native of Senegal, and now a resident of Oxford, Mississippi. He was born in 1975, in Pete, a rural village, on the Senegal River, in the Futa Toro Region of Senegal. Though both Senegal and Mauritania come together in this area, Guelel says the boundaries were meaningless to him. In fact, his father was from Senegal and his mother was born in Mauritania.
Guelel is Fulani, a minority in Senegal, and generally, a nomadic, often cattle herding, people; and, as are most of his countrymen, he's Muslim. He also speaks and sings in several languages.
He was raised by his paternal grandfather, and comes from the West African familial tradition of griots - passing praise music and oral history on to new generations. Guelel's father did not carry on the tradition, and Guelel says that he never expected to play music, professionally. He sang and danced as a child, and learned how to play a one string guitar (molo), and later, the six string guitar. In his teens, while still living in Senegal, Guelel remembers hearing John Lee Hooker and James Brown, among others, from the West.
At his father's urging, Guelel attended university, in Paris, studying sociology, for a time. Ironically, Paris is where he was first drawn into the African music scene. Eventually, he worked with famed Senegalese performers, Baaba Maal and Youssou N'Dour, as well as others.
Today, Guelel plays traditional African music, writes and develops new songs, plays stringed instruments, and sings. He recently opened an African restaurant, in Oxford, named after his late mother - Mama Kumba's African Soul Kitchen.
Eric Deaton is a North Carolina native who headed to Chulahoma, Mississippi, and the Kimbrough family juke, to hone his guitar and bass skills, as soon as he was old enough to drive. He quickly became family to the Kimbrough and Burnside clans.
Eric has recorded two CDs under his own name, Gonna Be Trouble Here, and Smile at Trouble. Today, when he's not on the road with Afrissippi or another artist, Eric plays gigs, leading his own band, and teaches guitar.
Kinney Kimbrough (the band calls him Kent) is the drummer, and a sometime mechanic and mower. He's Junior Kimbrough's son. Kinney is now in his early thirties, and has been playing since he was eight - appearing on most of Junior's CDs, including All Night Long, Most Things Haven't Worked Out, and Meet Me in the City (all under the name, Kenny Malone). He also worked with other hill country artists, including Johnny Woods, Othar Turner, and R.L. Burnside. After losing his dad, Kinney thought he might give up music, but he's back with this new family, and having a blast.
Finally, Justin Showah plays bass and manages the band. He also founded their new record label - Hill Country Records. He's worked with a few other Mississippi-based bands, including the Taylor Grocery Band.
The African roots of Afrissippi are found in the Republic of Senegal, on the Atlantic Ocean, nearly 5000 miles from Mississippi. Senegal is the Western-most point of the African continent - a low-lying country with both semi-desert and grasslands in the North, and heavier vegetation to the South.
Most of its people are herders, fishermen, miners, subsistence farmers, or grow cash crops, such as peanuts, millet, rice, and cotton. And, though the majority of the Senegalese people live in rural areas, the country's capital, Dakar, is a thoroughly modern, bustling city.
Forever linking Senegal and its people to the U.S., along with much of West Africa, millions of its people were captured and shipped off to the New World as slaves. The country was colonized by various nations, eventually becoming a French colony, in the mid 1800s, until its independence, in 1960. Today, French remains the national language.
Given colonial French influence, a long, powerful, up-tempo, Senegalese musical tradition was eclipsed for many years by Western music, until independence. The first President of the newly independent country, Leopold Sedar Senghor, himself, a poet, urged recognition of Senegal's own rich musical origins. In the years following its independence, Western style dance bands, playing in Senegal's nightclubs, began to add indigenous elements, including African drums and lyrics.
Best known of these bands was Ibra Kasse's Star Band, which eventually spawned a number of other groups. A new, modern, Senegalese-rooted music slowly emerged, internationally, through the sounds of Toure Kunda, Etoile de Dakar, El Hadji Faye, and Youssou N'Dour. Many elements of this sound can be found in Afrissippi's music.