Promoting the culture, music, and lifestyle of Africa

Guinea: Malinke Rhythms and Songs Vol. 1 – CD – Famoudou Kanate


Guinea: Malinke Rhythms and Songs Vol. 1 – CD – Famoudou Kanate

In Stock

SKU: 703. Posted in .

Product Description

Born and raised in the Hamanah region of Guinea, Konate was recruited by Les Ballets Africains at its inception in 1958. For 26 years, he was first soloist for this world-renowned national ballet before setting out on his own to make a name for himself on the European circuit. Since the mid-eighties, he has been establishing a reputation in Europe as the foremost Mande master drummer. This has contributed greatly to the legitimation of Malinke music as a formal, complex musical tradition by introducing it to the curriculum of Western institutions of higher learning. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary degree by the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. Konate’s music is as much story as it is song. As co-producer Nassar Saidani explains in the liner notes: “His music is primarily language. Like a griot making us live out a story with accurate details in his gestures, words and even silences, Famoudou makes his drum talk.” These words come to mind, particularly so on “Borokoni”, where Konate himself speaks while playing the borokoni, or “sorcerer’s harp.” Inasmuch as Konate’s solo techniques can be likened to language, he is not a man of many words. He speaks with clarity, precision, and the power of understatement. The solo phrasing accentuates the melody created by the rest of the ensemble; it does not overwhelm or blur it. His is a subtle song — refined, not flaired. The result is spellbinding.

Konate’s solos on this CD leave no room for doubt about this: there are at least twenty-five distinct sounds emanating from the drum in his hands. On track six, “Könönari,” a series of slaps in the solo seem like sounds from somewhere else. Of course, Konate’s tones do more than punctuate the pieces — indeed, they carry them. But what seems most striking at times, for example on “Siwe,” a song from the Konyan people, is the depth of the bass tones Konate draws from the djembe. Non-initiates might even be led to believe a fourth bass drum has been added to the weave. But this is the deep bass of the djembe.

The “dundunba” selections, clearly identifiable based on the pronounced emphasis of the kenkeni in the off-beat, are more refined by comparison to the “dundunbas” on the 1996 release, “Hamanah,” which features both Famoudou Konate and Mamady Keita. On “Malinke Rhythms and Songs,” we encounter the softer side of this form in “Donaba,” an ancient Dunun piece combined with a contemporary version of the song to honor a beautiful woman whom the community had chosen as the village princess. What really comes to the fore here is the youthful spirit of play that has marked Konate’s career, from its village beginnings in Sangbarala and throughout the quarter-century he spent touring the world with Les Ballets Africains. The sharpness and accuracy of the beat is irresistible. More so here than anywhere else before, the complex interplay between dunun, dance and djembe drum emerges. This is the first recording in which Konate has enjoyed complete artistic freedom to “choreograph” and direct an ensemble of his own choosing, according to his own aesthetic standards.

One cannot help but note the conspicuous presence of women and children on this recording. They feature prominently and Konate has placed them in the foreground. Indeed, many of the musicians — Nankouma Konate, Fode Konate, Bijou Konate, Cadet Konate, joined by the Kourouma’s and Keita’s cited in equal number — are Famoudou’s “children,” literally and figuratively. One special featured artist is Konate’s nephew, Nansedy Keita, who came down from the village of Sangbarala especially for the recording to solo on several cuts, “Dibon II,” “Sirankuruni,” “Donaba,” and “Lambe”. Most striking perhaps about this 73-minute release is the strength of song throughout. A capella vocals set the tone on the opening track, “Damba”, where praises are sung for a young woman about to be married. A splendid blend of versatile voices in varying constellations carry the celebratory spirit of song on this CD and underscore the element of (his)story. There isn’t one purely instrumental selection in the 13 story-songs recorded in Simbaya, Guinea. At the same time, the instrumental diversity of the Malinke tradition is displayed here with the inclusion of lesser known instruments like the borokoni, the kodo-kodo, the dönsökoni, the bolon, and the djabara. The track “Könönari” even includes a rare recording of Konate playing the tumbadoras.

This release promises to become a milestone in the Malinke musical tradition. With any luck, it will finally provide recognition for a master musician who has gotten far too little exposure this side of the Atlantic. It is perhaps fitting that this long-established djembe master should be the one to make clear to Western listeners that the djembe, while it is a solo instrument, does not stand alone. Rather, the collective effect of story, song, celebration and a skilled ensemble of musicians makes up the magic of Malinke music.

Lilian Friedberg Humanities Department University of Chicago

Tracks: (1) Damba, (2) Dibon II, (3) Konkoba II, (4) Kadan, (5) Sirankuruni, (6) Kononari, (7) Donsokoni, (8) Borokoni, (9) Donaba, (10) Siwe, (11) Lambe, (12) Sonfoli, (13) Takonani

Additional Information