Keletigui et ses Tambourinis, Authenticité – The Syliphone Years

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Authenticité - The Syliphone Years

Keletigui et ses Tambourinis

Maybe there's something to this dictatorship thing. Following his country's independence from France in 1958, Guinean president-for-life and rabid music lover, Ahmed Sékou Touré mandated a return to "authenticité africaine." This led to a long musical golden age (this compilation covers 1965-80) during which dozens of government-subsidized orchestras flourished onstage and in the studios of the nationalized Syliphone label. Touré, like other postcolonial African leaders, wanted to modernize and re-Africanize his nation at the same time. In terms of music, this drove combos to combine regional rhythms and tunes with rocking lead guitars, snazzy Latin-jazz horn sections and Cuban harmonies, while eschewing cheesier Western styles. These grooves are so hot, and the soloing personalities so distinctive that even lyrics that celebrate revolutionary activity and praise the country's ruling political party sound awesome.

The glorious sound of a country modernizing and re-Africanizing at the same time.

Bembeya Jazz National is the best known among the twenty or so "federal" and "national" bands represented here, and for good reason. Lead guitarist Sékou "Diamond Fingers" Diabaté (not to be confused with the almost equally impressive Sékou "Le Docteur" Diabaté) is a guitar giant on a par with your favorite Nigerian or Congolese virtuoso, as demonstrated by tracks such as the ultracool "Bembeya" or red-hot "Boiro." Other highlights include saxophonist/organist Kélétigui Diabaté's epic "Soundiata," Nimbo Jazz's frantic "Ziko," Camayenne Sofas 'shimmering "Karomoko" and anything by Balla Onivogui or Pivi Moriba and the Balladins.

The Syliphone flood continues on equally rewarding compilations featuring Bembeya Jazz (The Syliphone Years) and the French Syllart label's reissues of the equally remarkable Discothèque series. Government functionaries never sounded so swank.