Awesome music from the archives – Balla et ses Balladins ‘The Syliphone Years’
From the late 1950s, many West African nations embarked on ambitious programmes aimed at rejuvenating their traditional arts. Guinea got independence in 1958, and set up the Authenticité cultural policy. Music was the prime focus, with each region represented by an orchestra. The government purchased instruments and the musicians effectively became working civil servants. By 1960, Guinea was one nation under an officially sanctioned groove.
The Syliphone label was at the vanguard of this intense period of musical production and experimentation. It was set up to capture a new nation asserting its musical voice in a radical way: a unique state of affairs in the history of recorded music.
The sweet sound of Balla et ses Balladins is the most resonant of these orchestras. There is something timeless about their languid style and this anthology is a comprehensive guide to the best of their work. Their trumpet playing leader, Balla Onivogui, had studied music in nearby Senegal. The orchestras had a mandate to advance Guinea’s musical heritage. Onivogui had a keen interest in Malinke and Fula musical traditions as well as a taste for the psychedelic sounds that were making the 1960s swing further north in Europe.
Their inaugural recording session at the Voix de la Revolution studio in Conakry in 1967 yielded Syliphone’s first hit and established the orchestra signature fusion style. Sinewy guitar lines sparkle beside beautiful brass sounds. Sweet vocals waft in the warm air above slow-burning rhythms which echo the Cuban styles that were popular in the country before independence.
The pendulum swings with glorious ease. This is dance music which sways both ways.