Showing posts with label Mandingo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mandingo. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The "New" Guinea Sound



From Independence in 1958 until the death of dictator Sekou Touré in 1984, there was only one record company in Guinea, the legendary Syliphone label. Not only that, all professional musicians in the country performed under the aegis of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée, the only legal political party. They were employed by the state, which provided musical instruments and venues. This could make for some uncomfortable situations, such as when when trumpet player Balla Onivogui fell afoul of some government bureaucrats in 1970 and was deposed as leader of his own group, Balla et ses Balladins, in favor of his sideman Pivi Moriba. "Pivi et ses Balladins" recorded one album before the status quo ante was restored when Sekou Touré himself intervened.

This all sounds like a very stifling state of affairs, but in fact during this period Guinea produced some of the most vital and original music to come out of the African continent. The official cultural  policy was Authenticité, which rejected European influences and sought a return to African roots for inspiration (similar policies were in place in Mali, Tanzania and Congo [Zaïre] for a time). It's all documented in an excellent 2-CD compilation on the Sterns label, Authenticité: The Syliphone Years (STCD 3025-26, 2007), ably curated by Dr. Graeme Counsel, which samples the 83 LPs and 77 45s released by Syliphone.

Several years ago Dr. Counsel finished digitizing Syliphone's archives in their entirety, including many, many recordings that were never pressed on vinyl. You can listen to all of them on the British Library's website. At the completion of this massive project Guinea's Ministry of Culture held a celebration, featuring among others the legendary Amazones de Guineé:


This Golden Age of Guinean music came to an end in 1984 when Sekou Touré died and Syliphone was scrapped. The many national and regional musical groups sponsored by the Ministry of Culture were cast to the vagaries of the free market. Some survived and still perform to this day. Many foundered. Taking the place of Syliphone were a number of independent labels, dealing now in cassettes rather than vinyl (I would assume cassettes also have gone by the wayside since, but who knows?).

Guinean music, freed from political constraints, has tended more toward the slick sound that typifies modern African popular music, often utilizing synthesizers but still making use of traditional instruments like the kora and balafon. It is often recorded outside Guinea, for instance in Abidjan's JBZ Studios, as was today's selection, Yaya Bangoura's La Patience (D.D. United 96002, 1996).

Bangoura typifies the "new" breed of Guinean musicians (that is, "new" as of 1996 - I confess to not having heard much recent music from that country, although I'm sure there's plenty). He was born in 1957 and became a teacher in 1982. However, he'd always had an interest in music and was a featured singer on Syli Authentique's 1976 album Dans l'Arène (Syliphone SLP 57). La Patience was his first solo recording effort, followed in short order by Kalanyi, Koule Yèlè and several tours which would take him to Europe, the United States and Canada.

Crippling back problems have forced "El Bangou" to perform in a chair for some time. I read, however, that he recently arrived in the US for specialized medical care. Here's hoping that he will continue to entertain us for many more years!

Yaya Bangoura - Koundara

Yaya Bangoura - Sabou Fanniyi

Yaya Bangoura - Super V

Yaya Bangoura - N'na Barana

Yaya Bangoura - Khakhili

Yaya Bangoura - Bariké

Yaya Bangoura - Denké Touré

Yaya Bangoura - Koundara

Download La Patience as a zipped file here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Forty Years of Xalam




Remember back in the early '80s when King Sunny Adé hit the scene in America? Not only was he said to be the next Bob Marley, the record companies were falling all over themselves to find the next "Big Thing" out of Africa. In short order Sonny Okosun and Tabu Ley Rochereau were launched on US tours, and there was a sprinkling of record releases by various artists. None of this had much impact - the "African Music Explosion" of the early '80s turned out to be a bit of a dud, although it paved the way for World Music™ a few years later. Whoopdy-doo!

One group that had more of an impact than most during this time was Touré Kunda, a Paris-based combo founded by a group of brothers from the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Touré Kunda didn't get a lot of respect from the more hard-core African music fans. A friend of mine came back from one of their concerts in Madison sneering at their "African bubble-gum music."

I've always thought Touré Kunda got a bum rap. Behind the slick production values their sound was always true to the music of their native region, which has never been as "angular" as that of Senegal's North.

Popular around the same time, although not so much in the US, was the Paris-based "Afro-Jazz" group Xalam, which if I am not mistaken, also has its roots in the Casamance. The group was founded in 1969 by percussionist Abdoulaye Prosper Niang. Xalam achieved a level of "mainstream" success that most African musicians can only dream of: recording with the Rolling Stones, opening for Crosby, Stills & Nash and Robert Plant, soundtrack gigs and innumerable world tours over the years. After a few rough years following the death of Niang in 1988 and the replacement of most of the original members, Xalam is this year celebrating its fortieth anniversary!

I've always loved Xalam's LP Gorée, released in 1983 by the French label Celluloid (CEL 6656). The album updates Senegalese folkloric themes to great effect, highlighted by spot-on percussion and the brilliant trombone work of Yoro Gueye. If you like this one, be sure to check out some of Xalam's other recordings, some of which are newly available after many years out of print.

Here's the music, along with song descriptions from the liner notes:

Derived from Mandingo folklore, "Sidy Yella" was also a hit for Touré Kunda. "A Mandingo son, a brave humanitarian warrior, defended his people against the invader with dignity, and died on the battleground":

Xalam - Sidy Yella

"A song about motherly love. A child sings for her mother at the first rooster call. 'When the rooster announces the start of the day, when the girls sing and the boys dance. . . ,' the child sings to her mother. Serere song. N'diouf rhythm":

Xalam - Ade 2

"Gorée is an island located 3 kms from Dakar. An important place, it was made a Portuguese, Dutch, English and French trading post. Thousands of Africans were 'exported' to the USA, the West Indies, Brazil, Haiti & Cuba, transporting a whole culture and civilization. Diola rhythm (Saw Ruba)":

Xalam - Gorée

"Song of the struggle. An old champion recounts his feats and speaks of struggle, of the life which demands sacrifice, courage, patience, willpower and faith: 'There where we pass, the one that passes collects mud.' Life is an eternal struggle. Wolof song. Saban rhythm":

Xalam - Kanu 2

"The story of a woman who prays to the god Djisalbero for a child. Her prayers go unanswered and she sees that around her the other women who have children hardly spend their time caring for them or simply abandon them. Diola song. Boncarabon rhythm":

Xalam - Djisalbero

"The struggle for the liberation of oppressed black people and of man in his home and birthplace. The struggle for the unification of African people. the struggle against racism and apartheid":

Xalam - Soweto

Many thanks to my daughter Aku for translating these liner notes. Click on the pictures at the top of the post and below to reveal the album sleeve in full. Download Gorée as a zipped file here, and thanks to reader/listener Soulsalaam for making the Xalam LP "Ade" Live at Festival Horizonte Berlin available here.