edited from http://ethnicsong.blogspot.com:
Taj Mahal’s 1999 CD “Kulanjan” features this version of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver’s Blues” (the original is included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.) Malian musicians Toumani Diabite, Ballake Sissoko, Bassekou Kouyate, and Ramata Diakite join him on this song to create a sublime fusion of Mississippi, Manding, and Wassoulou musical sensibilities.
Taj writes that in the studio he “begins to play a blues number and the Malians instinctively fall in with him.” Of particular note are the gorgeous improvised vocals of the late Ramata Diakite. With no prior exposure to the song, Ramata creates a haunting melody that takes the song to a completely new level.
During a weeklong session in an Athens, Georgia, home, Mahal and Diabate, plus a small Malian string band, achieved an unusually relaxed collaboration. Mahal’s finger-picking acoustic guitar, thick rust-bucket vocals and simmering sense of tempo bring a languid, sensual air. Diabate dials down his lightning-quick, aggressive tone slightly, so that he embroiders the songs — a mix of Malian and blues traditionals – rather than running away with them.
A jam-session informality prevails, from the quiet trio intimacy of “Mississippi-Mali Blues” to the jovial, Cajun-style “Fanta Sacko,” with Lasana Diabate prancing on the xylophone-like balafon. Cultural exchanges don’t sound more organic or revelatory than “Ol’ Georgie Buck,” which melts a spirited Southern dance tune into a hand-clapping thirteenth-century Malian groove; Mahal grunts along to a driving six-string hunter’s harp and mutters approval as Diabate does a little dancing of his own on the kora. The West African vocalists nearly steal the show, particularly Ramata Diakite, whose voice just about breaks Mahal’s heart as she floats through “Queen Bee” and “Take This Hammer.”
Taj Mahal and friends play “Take This Hammer (Spike Driver Blues)”:
Here is a glimpse of Ramata Diakite in a more familiar Wassoulou musical element: