W hen world music superstar Toumani Diabaté played Glastonbury with his Symmetric Orchestra earlier this year he brought two guests onto the Africa Express Stage with him. The first was the legendary Senegalese singer Baaba Maal. The second was a figure less well-known to the music press - Witney-resident Jali Fily Cissokho.

Those who have enjoyed Jali Fily's playing in and about Oxfordshire in recent years will find it no surprise to learn of him sharing a stage with some of the biggest names in African music. A Senegalese kora player of exquisite finesse, he is also possessed of a thrilling, soulful voice, and he combines his twin talents to moving effect in performance.

You may have seen him at the Oxford Folk Festival, the Cowley Road Carnival or the city's Luminox extravaganza earlier this year, where he appeared courtesy of Oxford Contemporary Music.

You may have also have caught Jali Fily busking in the street - the artist makes music wherever the opportunity presents itself. He is what in West Africa is known as a Griot; a bard, praise singer and wandering musician, through whom the history of the people is passed down over generations. His is more than a profession - it is a sacred vocation.

Hailing from Ziguinchor in the ocean-edged region of Casamance, Southern Senegal, Jali Fily was born into an ancestral tradition.

"All the teaching is done in the family," he told me. His mother, Bintu Konte is a famous Griot singer from Guinea and from her he inherited his songs.

His father, Jali Kemo Cissokho, who sadly died last year, was a celebrated player of the kora, the instrument on which Jali Fily too is a virtuoso.

A kora is made from a large calabash, a gourd which is cut in half and covered with animal hide to make a resonator. The 21 strings produce a melodic sound that recalls that of the harp.

Playing technique, though, is rather different. The musician holds two sticks attached to the resonator, and uses thumb and index finger of both hands to pluck the strings in mesmerising polyrhythmic patterns.

Jali Fily makes his own instruments. There were six in the room where we met, beautiful, organic creations as pleasing to the eye as any purely ornamental sculpture. The animal hide, he told me, is usually cow skin, tightened and bleached in the sun. The kora, it appears, should be white.

"When you are making the kora you put the cow skin in the sun for maybe three, four or five days, Jali Fily explained. "So the colours change. My father always said that the kora is a chameleon."

Antelope skin is apparently less reliable in colour, but produces a better sound. "My father preferred antelope skin."Jali Fily said.

As for the strings, gut was always the traditional material but contemporary players make use of a more unusual resource. Jali Fily plucked at a string.

"Nylon fishing line," he smiled. "Since the kora has become popular, most people use fishing line, though Toumani Diabaté uses harp strings."

Taught by his father, Jali Fily first learned to play the kora at age six. His older brother, Solo (a future BBC3 World Music award-winner), then continued the tuition.

Jali Fily started out playing at ceremonies with his parents, later with Solo where he joined in by beating rhythms on the cow skin resonator while his brother plucked the strings. He also sang to Solo's kora in an unbroken boy's voice so sweet that people mistook him for a woman - and would ask Solo if he'd bring his wife to sing.

It is unusual to both sing and play the kora - the two roles are normally fulfilled by two separate musicians. "These gifts come from God,' Jali Fily said. "I am lucky. My family is lucky."

His eight brothers and sisters, all Griot, were expert in their different fields on kora, drums, singing and dancing. With two younger nephews also skilled in music, the family home in Ziguinchor earned a reputation as Jalikunda - House of the Griot'.

Many people travelled from villages for tuition there, and family members formed a group that toured the area, giving performances at local baptisms, marriages and other ceremonies.

Jali Fily first visited England in 2002 on tour with the family group whose name, Jalikunda, recalled their home at Ziguinchor. The line-up comprised ten members who toured the UK and Europe, playing at Glastonbury and Womad, among other festivals.

Jali Fily later returned to England to form the Kaira-Arts company with his agent, Christine Lord. It is an Oxford-based project, aiming to promote and develop greater appreciation of the culture, craft and music of Senegal.

Through Kaira-Arts he produced his acclaimed first solo CD Kora & Voice, and it was not long afterward that I heard through Oxford's music grapevine of this exceptional talent on our doorstep.

"I play for peace," Jali Fily told me. Kaira means Peace and the company aims to inform and bring peace to all, having no political or religious agenda. The aim is only to present positive images of the rich culture of West Africa through performances, workshops and tuition in kora, song, dance and the visual arts.

I well remember the sweltering day in the summer of 2004 when I first went round to meet him and Christine, in a small terraced house in Headington. He sang to the kora in the living room, a strong, warm voice complemented by strings rippling to subtle and intricate rhythms. He was entirely relaxed and unselfconscious. I was mightily impressed and, as director of the Oxford Folk Festival, booked him immediately for our 2005 event.

A new album, Dumajoulo, has been recorded with a five-piece ensemble and is scheduled for release this month. It promises an exciting fusion of traditional Senegalese sounds from family members with the pulse of modern electric instruments played by some top-flight African musicians.

The mix was done with original recordings made by Fily's band in Ziguinchor when he returned home for his father's funeral, and recordings made here in England.

Jali Fily Cissokho & The Griot Grooves Band will be launching the CD at Oxford's Burton Taylor Theatre on August 24, and proceeds from album sales will go in part to Ziguinchor Music Centre in Jali Fily's home town.

This is to be a resource for the whole surrounding area, with recording and workshop facilities. All of the family are contributing to the project; the foundations are now laid and building is underway - though still in great need of further aid.

Jali Fily has already performed two fundraising events at the Burford Garden Centre who have, I was told, been very supportive. He has acquired many friends and admirers in Oxfordshire, among them Johnny Mignon, owner of The Perch by the river at Binsey who gave him a residency at the historic pub.

A fire tore through the thatched roof in May of this year, but the owner was careful to rescue Jali Fily's instruments stored there, along with his own possessions. The residency is to be resumed as soon as possible.

And the Glastonbury gig, how did that come about? The artist had listened to Toumani's music in Ziguinchor from a young age but never thought that he would meet him in person. Jalikunda's CD nonetheless found its way into the hands of the kora maestro, and the two men met at The Barbican, where Toumani was performing.

Jali Fily told me: "In the dressing room, Toumani asked: On the album, who sang that song, Yarou?' I told him it was me. He said: Oh, that song I love it. That song is wonderful.'"I said I love your kora playing. I've been listening to you since I was a small boy.'"

It was to be the start of a lasting relationship.

Christine said: "I told Toumani how difficult it is to promote a resident artist of Fily's calibre here. Don't worry Christine, we'll see what we can do. I'll be back. Be patient, everything will be fine.' True Griot optimism! Well he did come back and got Fily up on stage to sing at Womad last year.

"This year, Toumani called Fily. and said: I'm coming to Glastonbury let's meet up', " she said.

And meet up they did, at the fabulous mudfest in June this year.

"I am so happy you are here," Toumani told Jali Fily. "When Fily sings it is as if he is singing my kora back to me. He understands my music because he is also a Griot and plays kora."' You could not ask for a recommendation from a greater authority, and if you want an early view of Jali Fily's new band, be sure to be at the Burton Taylor Theatre this month. The setting is intimate, so get your tickets in good time - and prepare for a feast of music.

Jali Fily Cissokho & The Griot Grooves Band launch their CD at Oxford's Burton Taylor Theatre on August 24 at 7.30pm. Tickets from Tickets Oxford at the Oxford Playhouse, call 01865 305305, online www.ticketsoxford.com For more about Jali Fily Cissokho and the Kaira-Arts project, visit www.kaira-arts.co.uk