Bembeya Jazz National , The Syliphone Years

Keith Harris

By Keith Harris

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Call it a tale of two Sékous. In the '60s, Sékou Touré, the socialist president of Guinea, pumped money into the national music industry to accelerate traditional culture's entry into modernity. Sékou Diabate, the showcase guitarist of Guinea's first great post-independence dance band, Bembeya Jazz, was among Toure's beneficiaries. And Diabate's fluid guitar work, which blended Congolese, Cuban, and Mandinka styles, was among this investment strategy's chief dividends.

Two decades in the life of Guinea’s first great post-independence dance band.

Ranging chronologically from the early '60s through the late '70s, this collection tells a story of continual experimentation rather than strict linear development. On "Republique Guinea," you can already hear Bembeya Jazz's trademarks — the clamor of erratically tuned brass, the liquid wail of founder/vocalist Aboubcar Dembar Camara, and, of course, Diabate's reverb-encrusted guitar. And when these elements have room to swell and expand on the ten-minute plus live workout "Super Tentemba," the heroics are worth every last franc the government coughed up.