‘Musique Sans Paroles’ - one nation under a funky groove

Music from the archives: The liberation of Guinea from France in 1958 precipitated a golden era of music

 

The liberation of Guinea from France in 1958 precipitated a golden era of music production of unprecedented proportions 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 wide open 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 compulsory components of the new sound. Add to this the fact that the arrival of the electric guitar in Conakry in 1958 was an explosive development 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 as they rumble along effortlessly. 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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