Guinea is a country in West Africa. There are a number of ethnic groups in Guinea. There are 10 million people in Guinea who belong to about 24 ethnic groups. Mande is a popular form of music which traveling singers sing. The songs are mainly praises to noble patrons. The popular musical instruments include ngoni, banjo, and balafon.
A cultural transformation took place in Guinea with Ahmed Sekou Toure was elected as the President of the country. The Guinean music, during this time, helped restore national dignity and pride. Here are the best musicians from Guinea.
1. Momo Wandel Soumah
He was a singer, saxophonist, and composer. He was famous for his gravelly voice. He started his music career in 1950s by playing in dance bands. Later, he moved to modern music after the cultural revolution. From mid 1980s Soumah developed a blend of African traditional music and jazz. He was the musical director of Circus Baobab. His discography includes Matchowe (1992), Afro Swing (2001) and Momo Le Doyen (soundtrack, 2007). He died in 2003.
2. Bembeya Jazz
It is a Guinean jazz group that became famous in the 1960s for their Afropop rhythms. It is also called Orchestre de Beyla. They were formed with the help of the local governor, Emile Konde, so that they could act as the region’s ‘orchestre moderne’. They are considered to be one of the best musical bands in Guinean music. Most of their recordings are based on traditional folk music fused with Afropop and jazz style. It features guitarist Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate. Sekou Camara and Achken Kaba were in the brass section on trumpets, Hamidou Diaoune was on bass and Mory ‘Mangala’ Conde on drums. The band was very famous in Conakry during the days of their political turmoil. The band went through some bad times in the 1980s and disbanded for some time. It was again reformed in the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, it toured Europe and North America. Their albums included Sons nouveaux d’une nation nouvelle, République de Guinée, 2 Octobre 1962, 4ème anniversaire de l’independance nationale, Orchestre de Beyla and included the songs Présentation, Yarabi, Lele, Din ye kassila, Wonkaha douba, Seneiro, Wassoulou and Maniamba. They won the first prize at two national arts festivals in 1964 and 1965 and were crowned “National Orchestra” in 1966. They used saxophone, clarinet and trumpet in their music. They became extremely famous after their Aboubacar Demba Camara joined the band as the lead singer. The band toured a lot and became one of the famous bands in Africa. The songs ‘Armee Guineenne’ and ‘Mami Wata’ were their biggest hits. In 1973, their lead singer Camar died on an auto accident. Their popularity started to go down and in 1991 the band disbanded. In 2002, they again joined together and performed at the Musiques Metisses d’Angoulême world music festival in France. They recorded their first new album in 14 years for the director of the festival, Christian Mousset’s Marabi label.They went on to tour Europe and North America.
3. Balla et ses Balladins
Balla et ses Balladins, also known as Orchestre du Jardin de Guinée, were a dance-music orchestra formed in Conakry, Guinea in 1962. It was formed after the break-up of the Sylin Orchestre National which was Guinea’s first state-sponsored group. Guinea at that time formed a number of music groups, festivals and competitions throughout the country in order to play the traditional musics of Guinea instead of the European music. The name ‘Orchestre du Jardin de Guinee’ was given after the ‘bar dancing’ music venue in Conakry. This music venue still exists today. It became one of the first modern dance musical groups in Guinea who used traditional musical instruments to blend the traditional Guinean folk music with modern music. The group made a number of recordings for the state-owned Syliphone label. The leader of the group was the trumpet player Bella Onivogui. He was born in 1938 in Macenta. He became a member of the state’s leading orchestra, the Syli Orchestre National. He died in 2011.
4. Mamady Keïta
He is a master drummer from the West African nation of Guinea. He specializes in the goblet-shaped hand drum called djembe. He is the founder of the Tam Tam Mandingue school of drumming. He is a member of the Manding ethnic group. He started playing djembe when he was seven. He was educated in the traditions of his village, learned music and history of the Malinke people. He became a member of the first regional federal ballet of Siguiri after Balanka Sidiki at the age of twelve. At the age of fourteen, Keita was selected, along with other artists, as Guinea’s Minister of Culture to form Le Ballet National Djoliba. After being trained for nine months, he was one of only five percussionists retained. He became the lead soloist of Ballet Djoliba in 1965 where he stayed till 1986. In 1988, he moved to Belgium and worked as a teacher and performer. In 1991, he opened his first school Tam Tam Mandingue percussion school in Brussels. Since then, has worked as a performer with his group Sewa Kan and recorded a number of CDs. He teaches internationally as well in Europe, the US, Asia, and Australia. He has published many djembe teaching materials on CD, DVD, and book.
5. Orchestre de la Paillote
This Guinean group was a result of the split, in 1960, of the Syli Orchestre National. The original orchestra was formed by then president Sékou Touré. It was led by saxophonist Kélétigui Traoré. Later, the group changed its name to Kélétigui et ses Tambourinis.
6. Keletigui et ses Tambourinis
There was a dance music orchestra found in 1959 by the government of Guinea. They were one of the most popular national orchestras of the newly formed independent Guinea. This group was one of the small groups that were formed after splitting the Syli Orchestre National. The group was led by keyboard and saxophone player Keletigui Traore. This group was also based in the nightclub in Conakry and made a number of recordings for the state-owned Syliphone record label.
7. Mory Kante
He was born in 1950. He was a singer and a songwriter. He plays kora harp. He was known internationally for his 1987 hit song ‘Ye ke ye ke’ which became the number one song in Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. It sold one million copies in Africa. The songs form ‘Akwaba Beach’ (1987) were referenced in three famous songs in Hindi films. He received fame again in 1994 through the dance remix of ‘Yeke Yeke’. He appeared as a vocalist on British DJ Darren Tate’s release ‘Narama’ in 2006. He was one of the singers of the song ‘Africa Stop Ebola’ which offered advice for Ebola crisis.
8. Famoudou Konaté
He is a Malinke master drummer from Guinea. He is one of the few masters of the Malinke drumming tradition. He is respected as famous djembe master drummers. He has dedicated his life to preserving music of his country. He helped in promoting djembe orchestra internationally. From 1959 to 1985, Famoudou was the lead djembe soloist for Les Ballets Africains de la République de Guinéeand toured the world. Today, Konaté teaches and performs annually throughout Europe, Japan, Israel, North America and West Africa. In 1996, he received an honorary professorship in Didactics of African Musical Practice from the University of the Arts Berlin.
9. Sona Diabate
Sona Diabate comes from a family of hereditary griot musicians from Guinea. She is a gifted singer who memorizes vast amounts of oral history and composes “praise songs” to important figures and benefactors. She has also performed as a singer and guitarist with the band Les Amazones de Guinea.
10. El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyaté
is a renowned balafon player, from Kindia, Guinea. He is a member of the Djoliba Ballet as well as the National Choral and Instrumental Ensemble. He is a master of the balafon, a “resonated frame, wooden keyed percussion idiophone of West Africa.
All these musicians had revived the culture of Guinea since it’s independence. Some of these musicians have also made it to the international stage.