Wofa means ‘come together’ in the Soso dialect of Guinea. It also represents the combined energy of some of the finest young performers of West African drumming and dance. The seven male musicians and three female dancers have worked together since 1993 under the artistic directorship of master drummer Fran?ois Kolelaere and have become one of the premiere independent performance troupes in West Africa. They link past and present, combining traditional culture with contemporary presentation style.
Wofa’s performances, driven by the strong pulse and polyrhythms of Guinean music, feature a myriad of drums and rhythm instruments. These include jembe (lead drum), dunun (bass drum), bala (marimba), and wassakhoumba (similar to multiple castanets, usually reserved for ritual ceremonies), as well as singing and dancing. The explosive power of the ensemble has met with tremendous audience response around the world.
They participated in the MASA 95 festival of African culture in Ivory Coast and played on the Champs Elys?es for the 200th Anniversary Bastille Day celebration. The group has toured extensively through Europe, Asia and North America including a 1998 residency in the French Caribbean and concerts from Los Angeles to Alaska. Wofa have two CDs on the Musique du Monde label.
Lead drummer Aboubacar Fatouabou Camara belongs to a lineage of great Guinean musicians. Performing since the age of 14, he was a student of Mamady Keita and spent 10 years with the National Ballet Djoliba, before co-founding the National Percussion Ensemble of Guinea. Camara is part of a forty year legacy of professional dance in Guinea. All of the large national dance companies of West Africa were inspired by Guinean groups such as Ballets Africains and Ballet Djoliba. The players of Wofa combine their touring activity with performances at celebrations and ritual ceremonies at home, uniting a powerful artistic heritage and a still thriving traditional culture.
Born in 1950, master drummer Mamady Keita comes from eastern Guinea, once a part of the vast Manding Empire. In pre-colonial times it also included large portions of what are now Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
At his birth, a soothsayer predicted Keita would become known all over Africa and even in “countries of which we’ve never heard spoken!” By age fourteen he was a professional, traveling around Guinea learning new rhythms. And as foretold, in 1965 a teenage Keita began touring the globe with the Guinean Ballet.
In 1988, Keita settled in Belgium and founded his own group, Sewa Kan, which means “sound of joy”. With half a dozen players and dancers, the group has toured extensively, including four trips to Japan.
Preoccupied with preserving a musical tradition going back to the 13 century, Keita founded a school, Tam Tam Mandingue. “It’s important to place the musical tradition in context,” he explained with his habitual broad grin. Here, avid students learn to play the jembe, a large, conical, open-ended drum with a head of stretched goat or antelope skin. And with the technique, Keita transmits the joy and warmth within the music.
Mamady has been the focus of four documentary films and has recorded several albums on the Fonti Musicali label. Mamady has also written an instructional book, Mamady Keita: A Life for the Djembe–Traditional Rhythms of the Malinke (Music CD included) published by Arun and translated by Uschi Billmeier. The book transcribes over 60 Mandingo rhythms and includes detailed histories. Lastly, Mamady has recorded three instructional videos (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels) available in French with English subtitles.
Today Mamady travels around the world teaching and performing; every winter he hosts two 3-week workshops at his private compound in Guinea. In August through September he tours Japan and the United States teaching traditional Mandingo percussion. Beginning in the Fall of 2004 Mamady Keita will be based in San Diego four months out of each year.
Wassolon (Fonti Musicali, 1989)
Nankama (Fonti Musicali, 1992) Mögöbalu (Fonti Musicali, 1995) Hamanah, with Famoudou Konaté (Fonti Musicali, 1996)
Afö (Fonti Musicali, 1998) Balandugu Kan (Fonti Musicali, 2000) Mamady Lèè (Fonti Musicali, 2001)
Agiatè (Fonti Musicali, 2002)
Djembe Master, (Nocturne, 2004)
Sila Laka (Fonti Musicali, 2004)
Live at Couleur Cafe (Fenix Music & ZigZag World, 2005)
Mandeng Djara (Fonti Musicali, 2007) Hakili (ZigZag World & Cristal Records, 2010)
Kadé Diawara is highly celebrated throughout Guinea as one of the single most significant jeli women in the country.
On October 2, 1958 – the day Guinea declared its independence from France – she was chosen, together with other jelis from all over the country, to sing the national anthem for the Republic of Guinea. Today, she is still a member of the “Ensemble instrumental de la radio-diffusion nationale”, the instrumental ensemble of the national public radio in Guinea. Her unmistakable voice is known throughout the country where she is considered an exceptional vocalist and highly celebrated.
Kadé Diawara is a member of Hamana Föli Kan, the Voice of Hamana. It is an ensemble formed by Famoudou Konaté consisting of two vocalists and an additional four excellent drummers. Kadé Diawara and Famoudou Konaté shared the same stage for many years. At official state visits and festivals in Africa and in Europe, they represented the musical traditions of their homeland.
L’Archange Du Manding (Editions Syliphone, 1976)
L’Archange Du Manding – L’Eternelle
Famoudou Konaté is an exceptional virtuoso on the jembe. Famoudou Konaté was born in 1940 in Sangbarala, in the Hamana region of Guinea – the heart of Malinke country. In 1959, when the federal government of Guinea gathered the best musicians and dancers in the country to form the group Les Ballets Africains de la République de Guinée, Famoudou Konaté was selected to be the first instrumental soloist. He held this position for 26 years.
The years of experience in the ensemble and the interest that has since arisen among Europeans laid the way for him to teach his music outside of his home country. From 1986 until the present, he has been offering regular instruction on an ever increasing basis in Europe and has since extended these activities to include the United States and Canada.
As an experienced, exceptionally skilled instructor whose humor and methodical approach is absolutely captivating, Konaté was awarded an honorary professorship by the College of Fine Arts in Berlin (Hochschule der Künste). In 1993, he completed a successful European concert tour with his African ensemble, Hamana Diyara. Since then, he has performed in concert with groups formed from former students and in solo concerts at museums, academies and conservatories. Konaté has taken on the task of preserving and passing on the rich, but endangered, musical tradition of his people. He is fluent in the entire repertoire of complex Malinke rhythms. The rhythms are comprised of jembe solo patterns and the accompanying patterns of the three bass drums Kenkeni, Sangban and Dununba, which, when played together, form a melodious composite whole. They let the stories each individual rhythm has to tell come to life. Since 1999, he has been working on a book about his life and the culture of the Malinke-Hamana.
Together with his Ensemble Hamana Föli Kan, Famoudou Konaté presented, in addition to traditional rhythms and songs, his own arrangements and compositions fashioned in the style of the traditional music performed on the traditional drums and stringed instruments. With his intense but unpretentious stage presence, Famoudou is able to enthrall his listeners and draw them into one of the most fascinating forms of musical expression in Africa.
Hamana Föli Kan the Voice of Hamana – is an ensemble formed by Famoudou Konaté consisting of two vocalists and an additional four excellent drummers. One of the singers, Kadé Diawara, is highly celebrated throughout Guinea as one of the single most significant jali (griot) women in the country. Kadé Diawara and Famoudou Konaté shared the same stage for many years. At official state visits and festivals in Africa and in Europe, they represented the musical traditions of their homeland.
Lugert Verlag published Rhythms and Songs from Guinea (ISBN 3-89760-150-8) featuring a CD with music by Famoudou Konaté.
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.
Prince Diabate hails from a prominent family of Malinke jeli musicians from Guinea, West Africa. He learned his art from his father at a very young age.
Breaking with tradition his father also taught Prince’s mother, Hadja Djeli Sira Cissoko, to play kora. The young boy became an exceptionally early starter, accompanying his parents to their concerts throughout West Africa.
When he was eight years old he came to the attention of former President Sekou Toure, who became his benefactor, enrolling him into the National Children’s Theatre in Conakry. Aged sixteen, he won first prize in an international kora competition in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and acquired his nickname, Prince Diabate, Prince of the Kora.
In 1986 he met the singer, Amara Sanoh, and the two started to perform together, touring in Africa, Europe, Canada and the US. They disbanded in 1998. A world class musician, Prince Diabat? has developed a distinctive style, characterized by a lightning-quick, percussive technique, coupled with a dynamic stage presence and he is often referred to as the ?Jimi Hendrix of the Kora.?
He recorded Lamaranaa in 1993; New Life in 2001 (Sunrise Records), which featured guest artists Michael Brook, Hassan Hakmoun and Andre Manga; and Djerelon (2006).
Moving easily between the classical traditions of Mand? music and modern fusion, Prince Diabate has incorporated reggae, rap, blues and funk into his work. The result is entirely his own: an original, powerful brand of twenty-first century kora music, which remains strongly rooted in traditional codes and references.
Prince is currently based in Los Angeles, where he performs with his acoustic and electric fusion bands, returning frequently to Guinea. In 2000, he was creative consultant and lead performer on an IBM commercial which aired during the Olympic Games in Sydney. In 2001, he recorded a track on Embrace the Chaos, the Grammy-winning CD from Ozomatli. In 2002, he was a World Music nominee in the LA Weekly Music Awards.
N’Faly Kouyate was born into the most famous family of jalis of the Manding, the region of West Africa which includes Guinea-Conakry, Mali, the Gambia, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. He is the son of Konkoba Kabinet Kouyate of Siguiri in the Republic of Guinea. Konkoba is a rare grade of musician, superior among jalis. This rare grade (there exist fewer than three in the world today) was acquired by him through achieving difficult tests and gaining a perfect mastery of the secrets of life, composed of its deep occult secrets and also all of the magic of the Manding world.
Formed in the most rigorous traditions of the traditional artists of West Africa, N’Faly opened his mind nonetheless at a very young age to universal forms of music, including jazz, world music, blues and techno. A highly accomplished musician, N’Faly is a marvelous singer, kora player, storyteller and bala player, as well as an articulate spokesperson of the studies of these musics and of polyphony, of which he often lectures in Belgian universities.
In 1997, Peter Gabriel’s Realworld Studios proposed to integrate him into their most successful ensemble, the Afro Celt Sound System. He accepted this invitation, and this has allowed him the opportunity to perform at many of the most prestigious festivals in Europe and North America.
In 1999, the second CD by the Afro Celt Sound System, “Release,” was released to critical acclaim, a World Music Grammy nomination and gold record status in Ireland. N’Faly won extensive praise from all corners for his brilliant participation. Volume Three, “Further in Time,” has now been released and N’Faly is already garnering praise, not only for his exquisite kora playing, but for his arrangements as well as his compositional and vocal contributions. In his solo career, he works extensively in Belgium and, indeed, throughout Europe, to teach the history of the Manding to all ages from 7 to 77. And, through these performances, he proposes to advance not only his culture, but his dream of the realization of understanding and tolerance among all cultures of the world. To this end, he works with Muriel in their organization Namunkanda (The Defense of the Culture) which is expanding to the U.S. in 2001-2.
Since 1997 he has also performed with the Chris Joris Experience and through this embraces his love of jazztheir 1998 CD “Live at Middleheim” won the “Prix Django D’or” award for that year. He also pursues his career and goals through his work with his own ensemble Dunyakan (“The Voice of the World”) in which blues, world music, jazz and the traditional music of Guinea are intermingled. This is perhaps where his true heart lies. Their music includes traditional instruments such as the kora, jembe, bala, and more traditional Western instruments such as the double bass and the drum battery. Their polyphonies are largely inspired by the music of Guinea, and their reliance on these lends a sweetness to the rhythms, giving Dunyakan a unique sound in the cadre of “world music.”
N’Faly’s strong compositional skills give Dunyakan its own identity, intensely personal, formed by N’Faly’s strong ideals and dreams. They have performed throughout Belgium, France, England and Ireland and plan to tour in the U.S. in 2002, and possibly Taiwan as well. 2001 saw the release of their CD, “N’Na Kandje.”
The initiation of a jali (also known as griot) begins before his birth. While she carried the son of El Hadj Djélifodé Kanté, Fatouma Kamissoko scrupulously followed the ancient instructions of her tribe, one of the most famous lineage jalis in the Manding world. When Mory Kanté was born in 1950 at Albadaria, a village in the neighborhood of Kissoudougou, at the source of the river Niger, in Guinea, he was already a jali.
When he has three months old, he was made to dance. Mory was barely one year old when he could sing a few words. At three he was left in the instrument hut like his father. He became a bala (African xylophone) player. After six years of primary schooling, his parents took him away from school and sent him to Bamako, the capital of Mali, where a sister of his mother was put in charge of his education. There he learned the oral tradition which makes the jali the holders of the memory of people, villages and families. He also learned to play the guitar.
In the early 1970s, Mory played with the Appollos, a very popular band in Bamako. “Girls would refuse to get married unless we played at their wedding“. The singer and guitarist was so good that in 1971, the founder of the Rail Band of Bamako Station Buffet, Tidiane Kone asked him to join his group. The Rail Band included an albino singer, Salif Keita. The musicians were employed by the railway company, which linked up Dakar, Cayes and Bamako. This group became legendary. Not only because it nurtured Mory and Salif but also because it was one of the first to electrify Manding music and integrate Afro-Cuban influences, which many West African instrumentalists brought back from their stay in Cuba.
When Salif Keita left the Rail Band, a new lead singer was needed. Mory who played the guitar and the bala and sang occasionally, had to be pushed. “All Diallo, the director of the buffet had to see my family to ask them to convince me“. But once he had started to sing, he took to this new role. At the time, West Africa was quite calm and rich enough for a band to tour it and survive. The Rail Band played in Mali, Niger, Nigeria -where Mory met Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade- and Ivory Coast. At the, same time, the bala player’s son learned to play the kora, which despite going against tradition, was a total success that impressed the grand master Batourou Sekou
In 1978, living in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Mory Kanté found work in a large restaurant in the city, on condition of “inventing something completely original“. He took his kora, invited a bala player, Djelimouri Djan Kouyate, a jembe (hand drum) player and a bolon (African three-stringer bass to which Mory added two more strings) player, who was no other than his younger brother, Djelimoussa Diawara, now a great kora player. For this ultra-traditional group, he arranged the popular hits of the time Barry White, Johnny Pacheco, American soul and salsa.
The Band met with instant success. In 1981, Mory Kanté recorded his first record for the American label, Ebony Records, which included a first version of Bankero. In Abidjan. he set up a ballet at the French cultural center of Abidjan, bringing together 75 artists, musicians and dancers. The program included a choir and traditional songs. Manding rhythms and ballets and a modern orchestra, reflecting Mory’s constant shuttling back and forth between modernity and tradition.
Mory then took a big step and moved to Paris. After two albums that were very well received by critics, Akwaba Beach and the explosive Yéké Yéké, in 1987. With its typically Manding melody, it could have accompanied millet harvesting, something that the millions of westerners who bought it ignored, completely obsessed by the compulsive brass section and irresistible beat.
Mory Kanté and his group toured world-wide. On July 14, 1990, he played before tens of thousands of New Yorkers in Central Park.
Compared to the phenomenal success of Yéké Yéké, the following albums sold less well. Touma was only a gold disk in France and reached almost a million world-wide. Nongo Village only had a limited success, even though its sales figures reached tens of thousands of copies.
In the meantime, he dedicated a lot of time, energy and money to a cultural complex in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Today, Mory Kanté has regained his independence. He produces his own records to take responsibilities he had not yet taken. He has “returned to the past to live in the present and construct the future” and has found inspiration from master jalis who have initiated him, men who “have never seen a lit electric light bulb, but who are real wise men”.
In 2001, Kanté recorded a song with British R&B singer, Shola Ama. It became a crossover hit.
Kante is also an F.A.O. (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) Ambassador. This program was initiated in 1999 with the main purpose of attracting public and media attention to the fact that almost 800 million people are suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition. Each F.A.O. Ambassador has made a personal and professional commitment to this situation.
A Paris (1984)
10 Cola Nuts (1986) Akwaba Beach (Barclay, 1987)
Yéké Yéké (1987) Touma (Mango, 1990)
Nongo Village (1993)
Tamala – Le Voyageur (2001)
Best Of (2002) Sabou (Riverboat, 2004) La Guinéenne (Discograph, 2012) River Strings (Sterns, 2014)
Momo “Wandel” Soumah Guinean singer, composer, and alto saxophonist, Momo ?Wandel? Soumah, was considered one of the greatest saxophonists in Africa.
He was very influenced by jazz luminaries such as Coltrane, Parker and Coleman. He mixed jazz and traditional music from the lower coast of Guinea (the Soussou and the Baga). Endowed with a superb voice, Wandel surrounded himself with a highly talented group of traditional musicians. His band’s line-up included bala player Khali Camara, the flutist Mamady Mansare, Sekou “Kora” Kouyate (former director of Myriam Makeba?s band), and master drummers Aboubacar Camara and Aly Sylla (soloists of the National Percussion of Guinea).
In 1996 a French production company, Taxi Video Brousse, made a documentary about him, titled Momo Wandel Soumah.
In 2002 Momo Wandel Soumah was nominated for the BBC World Music Listeners Award.
Momo Wandel Soumah died Sunday, June 15, 2003, at the age of 77.
El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyate is one of the greatest balafon players in West Africa. He is the Director of the prestigious Ensemble Instrumental National of Guinea where he formed generations of the best musicians of his nation.
He has toured the world for many years, starting in the 1960s with the original Ballets Africains of Keita Fodeba; then, as accompanist to one of the greatest singers of his generation: Sory Kandia Kouyate; and later, as a member of the famous show “Africa Oye.”