Ryan Skinner

Ryan and Dov

Ryan's passion for music began in the theater. Growing up in Minneapolis, Ryan performed with a number of the city's theatrical companies where he cultivated his voice for the stage. At the age of fourteen, Ryan received his first guitar, and, gradually, he left the theater to develop other interests – prominent among them, music.

In college, Ryan sought to formalize his amateur knowledge of the guitar by studying classical, folk, and blues styles. At the same time, strong friendships were forming around musical collaborations. Dov and Ryan found each other, playing percussion and guitar respectively – music was their first common language.

In 1997, Dov asked Ryan to listen to a recording; it was an album featuring kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté. The music of the twenty-one stringed harp captivated him. The following year, Ryan was in Bamako, Mali's capital city, where he was invited to live with Toumani's family, a clan of griots (West African bards) who practice a centuries-old musical art. Toumani initiated Ryan as a kora student.

Ten years later, Ryan's apprenticeship continues, though now he teaches and performs kora music, in and out of Africa. Through his work with Dov, Ryan has developed a unique voice on the instrument, putting his American roots in dialogue with his African routes. Bafilabèn is the result of this polyvocal experiment.

Dov Stucker

Dov began playing guitar at age eight, writing his first song soon after. Since then, despite cycles of regular practice alternating with longer periods of quiescence, the melodies have always been there, in his head.

Ryan and Dov in black and white

The period between 1995 and 2000 was a renaissance, of sorts, a time held together by the thread of musical friendship, and improvisation, late into the night. Ryan’s strings were part of that collaboration—although at that point, there were only six of them.

A second wave of creativity culminated in 2001 with the release of Last Day of January, an album Dov produced with his partner, Sara Mason. Through this project, his musical identity matured and his connection to American acoustic traditions deepened.

But just as his roots were strengthening, his branches were reaching out. From 1996 to the present, Dov’s musical influences expanded, and have been fed by many of the cultural landscapes in which he has lived and traveled—especially those of Africa and the Caribbean.

Reconnecting with Ryan, and bringing together the two rivers of their instruments, melodies, and experiences, has been a natural development in this musical journey. The result, despite the distance from New England to Mali, feels like coming home.

Sara Mason

Kaye's Train

Sara has been playing and writing music for years. Her music remains a part of a constellation of creative pursuits, including pottery, painting, and mixed media work.