Legendary West African ensemble Las Maravillas de Mali is set to perform on Thursday, May 2, 2019 at Barbican Hall in London. The acclaimed Malian Afro-Cuban orchestra’s present line-up will take to the Barbican stage for the first time in May 2019, accompanied by Guinean singer Mory Kanté.
Las Maravillas de Mali’s Barbican line-up will include West African and Cuban musicians: Boncana Maïga (composer, conductor), Mory Kanté (vocals), Pepe Rivero (piano), Florent José Alapini aka. Jospinto (vocals), Juancito Hurtado (vocals), David Reicer (flute), Eduardo Coma (violin), Armando García Fernandez (violin), Reicel Pedroso Diaz (violin), Nahomi Stephany (viola), Inor Sotolongo (timpani), Abraham Mansfarroll (congas), Sergio Fernández Pedroza (piano) and Felipe Cabrera Cárdenas (bass).
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)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion