Awe­some mu­sic from the ar­chives – Balla et ses Bal­ladins ‘The Syli­phone Years’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Donal Di­neen

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.

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