The dazzling West African guitar virtuoso, Sekou “Diamond Fingers” Diabate, of the legendary Bembeya Jazz, is widely considered to be one of the top few guitarists on the continent of Africa, with an innovative personal style that mixes African and Cuban influences, and even Hawaiian slide guitar.
Beginning in the early 60’s, Diamond Fingers helped to pioneer a movement of modern Manding dance music that moved the musical inspiration and lyrical eloquence of the Manding griot tradition onto the dancefloors and airwaves of young West African capital cities.
During Bembeya’s Jazz’s recently-ended 14 year-hiatus, Diamond Fingers went on to release several acclaimed solo discs featuring his breathtakingly fluid improvisations.
Sekouba “Bambino” Diabaté was born in the small village of Siguiri (Guinea) near the Malian border. He is descended from griots or jeli (a caste of musically gifted oral-historians, messengers and bards in West Africa), his mother Mariama Samoura was one of the most celebrated singers of her time.
At the tender age of 12, Sekouba was discovered by Guinean President, Sekou Touré and at the President’s urging he became the frontman for the state-sponsored group Bembeya Jazz National. Joining the group earned him the moniker ‘Bambino’ due to his young age and to differentiate him from one of the group’s guitarists also named Sekou Diabaté (Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate). Sekouba is also known as “The National Treasure of Guinea”.
After the privatization and subsequent break-up of Bembeya Jazz, Bambino became the lead singer of Africando before leaving the group to pursue a solo career. Since that time Bambino has recorded several successful solo albums and collaborated on several others with Bembeya Jazz and Africando.
He has been featured on compilations such as: The Rough Guide to Mali & Guinea and World 2003 by EMI. His song, “Decouragé” was remixed by British DJ, Charles Webster and featured on the Buddha Bar Vol. 2 compilation.
Sekouba Bambino is an ambassador of Guinean music and griot culture, breathing new life into ancient rhythms and bridging the divide between traditional and modern Africa while remaining true to his heritage. He is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter of virtuoso talent.
Critically acclaimed and internationally sought-after, Bambino remains a champion of the people. Bambino is a Red Cross ambassador and an advocate for change seeking to educate the world about the plight of children suffering the effects of poverty, war and disease. Bambino’s lyrics speak to the human condition reinforcing basic values and encouraging us to treat one another with kindness and respect.
His soft-spoken demeanor and profound humility have endeared him to the hearts of the African people and in spite of his superstar status Bambino has not forgotten his role as a griot; a role that he does not take lightly. It is his love for his people and for the whole of humanity that has helped him transcend language and cultural borders to spread his dream of peace and tolerance wherever he goes.
Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz was formed in 1961, at a time and place when Afro-Cuban music resonated and possibly became the bridge between traditional music and modern instrumentation.
In the mid-’60s, Bembeya Jazz, which takes its name from the river that runs through their remote hometown of Beyla, was certified as a national band by Guinea’s first president Sekou Toure. The band moved to the capital, Conakry, where they performed as many as six nights each week and felt pressure to develop the hottest spine-tingling sounds. From this era emerged their signature four-guitar section, the introduction of Hawaiian slide guitar, and stunning stage performances.
Bembeya’s creative director Aboubacar Demba Camara was killed in a tragic car crash in 1973. The band was eventually able to re-group and right before the 1984 death of President Sekou Toure, he denationalized Bembeya (their first opportunity to operate internationally) and gave them their own nightclub.
But the 1980s saw a significant economic decline in Guinea and most of the band members had to look outside of the Guinean music scene for their primary livelihood. “The band was not broken up,” says lead guitarist Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate. “But in life, there are ups and downs, good moments and bad moments. So you wait. We were waiting.”
In 2003 Bembeya released its first recording in fourteen years. The band’s 2003 line-up included four members that hail from the group’s formative years, decades ago. Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate has not let up with his fiery guitar embellishments and entertaining stage antics. The high tenor voice of Salifou Kaba joins Dore Clement on tenor sax, Mohamed Kaba on trumpet, and Conde Mory Mangala on drums; all veterans of the dozen-member outfit.
In 2007 Bembeya Jazz appeared in the documentary film Sur les traces du Bembeya Jazz.