Var­i­ous - ‘Musique Sans Paroles’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY - Donal Di­neen

The lib­er­a­tion of Guinea from France in 1958 pre­cip­i­tated a golden era of mu­sic pro­duc­tion in West Africa. The coun­try’s first leader, Sekou Toure, was a griot and his love of mu­sic spurred him into im­ple­ment­ing an of­fi­cial pol­icy of au­then­tic­ité. This lead to stu­dios be­ing built, or­ches­tras con­structed, tu­ition or­gan­ised and com­pe­ti­tions founded.

While the of­fi­cial line was its fo­cus was on a re­turn to tra­di­tional Guinean folk mu­sic, in re­al­ity it in­stilled a free­dom of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that pro­duced some ex­cep­tional and unique mu­sic. The winds of change blew in all di­rec­tions. All sorts of sound­waves from Cuba and the US were reach­ing the shore­line of the Gulf of Guinea. To the north, Mali and Sene­gal were seeped in an­cient mu­si­cal tra­di­tions. Their na­tional in­stru­ments, both the Kora and the Bala­fon, a kind of African xy­lo­phone, be­came com­po­nents of the new sound. Add to this the ex­plo­sive de­vel­op­ment of the ar­rival of the elec­tric gui­tar in Con­akry in 1958 and you can be­gin to un­der­stand how the mu­sic be­came a glo­ri­ous amal­ga­ma­tion of the old and the new. The fact that there were op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a liv­ing through mu­sic, an in­trin­sic part of Guinean life and cul­ture any­way, turned the race for the prize into a kind of gold rush.

The most suc­cess­ful of the or­ches­tras, Balla et ses Bal­ladins and Bem­beya Jazz Na­tional, pro­duced records of epic pro­por­tions for the state Syli­phone la­bel.

This is a mid-1970s col­lec­tion of lesser-known names, but it burns with the same kind of shim­mer­ing in­ten­sity that lights up their mas­ter­pieces. The coun­try was in tur­moil by 1976 but the mu­sic was the hottest on the con­ti­nent. These eight in­stru­men­tals are in­dica­tive of just how funky one na­tion un­der a groove could ac­tu­ally be.

It’s hard to pin down the con­nec­tions that bind them all to­gether, mak­ing it feel like the al­bum of a single artist. The rhythms are al­most aquatic. The magic is shot through with glit­ter­ing gui­tar sounds so sup­ple and se­duc­tive. The horn work is a joy­ous clar­ion call. Let the mu­sic keep your spir­its high.

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