I credit much of my music taste to the guidance of my father, he may have done it directly or unknowingly as he would tap his feet or when he would follow the beat with his fingers, I would observe his hand mimic a rhythm with his fingers and join in with him.
He shared his knowledge of music with us from a tender age, and he would push the furniture aside and ask us to dance to the music. The likes of Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Mory Kante, Nyboma, Arlus Mabele, and many more filled his African music collection.
Several recordings of Jazz, Soul, and Funk also had a prominent spot in the music collection. A great fan of Jimi Hendrix, he was. We all grew up to like great music, during the many tough times, we would find solace in music.
The man was one of the biggest Mory Kante fans I know; he had Mory’s most significant record Akwaba Beach in his collection; the album featured Mory’s most prominent single of all time ‘Yeke Yeke,’ boy did we, his children, dance to this song. My dad would push the furniture aside and create space for us to dance, dance we did as he and mom cheered us on. I came to love this singer’s work; he became one of my best African musicians.
Later in life, I followed the singer’s sound, downloaded his other albums, and listened to most of his post-Akawaba Beach albums and collaborations. Mory Kante wasn’t just your average hitmaker. He laid down a path for a listener to follow, kind of a story of his life and craft. The Kora carried the hidden tales of the stories he told, and the synths bore a map of the kind of success his trend-setting music would achieve. The Griot carried forth his message, just like his Mandinka ancestors.
His journey to music success began when he was just seven years old. At that age, he was sent to Mali to learn to play the Kora and other core Griot traditions. Mory had already learned to play the Balafon, a West African marimba. From Guinea, he set off to his mother’s country, a place that would forever put him on the road to global success.
Now a teenager in the 60s, the young artist played with Apollos, a pop band in Bamako, Mali. Mory later joined one of Mali’s biggest group at the time named ‘Rail Band of Bamako, where he was a bandmate with the legendary Malian voice Salif Keita. He then became the leader of the band after Keita left.
The singer later left the band in the late 70s and headed to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he would form his outfit and did one album with four tracks; the project was released under Eboni Records, USA.
The singer then set off for Paris, which became his second home, while in the European nation, he released many of his big records. While in France, he transformed his music even more; with albums such as; À Paris (1984),10 Cola Nuts (1986), Akwaba Music (1987), Touma (1990) Nongo Village (1993), Tatebola (1996), Tamala – Le Voyageur (2001), Sabou (2004), La Guinéenne (2012) and N’diarabi (2017) among others.
His era in Paris saw the release of the global hit record ‘Yeke Yeke’ and ‘Tama.’
‘Tama’ on the other hand, had a laid back feel but with dominant electronic sounds as the entire Akwaba Beach project possessed, the song inspired and birthed two Bollywood songs ‘Tamma Tamma’ in the 1990 film Thanedaar and ‘Jumma Chumma’ from the film Hum released the following year. Hum also featured ‘Ek Doosre Se,’ which was a rework of ‘Inch’ Allah’ from the same 1987 album. Indian composer Bappi Lahiri gained even more fame with his renditions borrowing heavily from Mory Kante. Psst…. Toyota adopted the ‘Yeke Yeke’ song as background music for a TV ad for its second-generation Toyota Carina ED in Japan in 1989.
‘On Yarama Foulbe’ is one track I would never fail to mention in conversations about the singer, the track features on his album Tatebola. The album was an impressive collection of music, released in the mid-90s, stretches of R&B, new jack swing, bouncy hip-hop nuances. Many expected the ‘Yeke Yeke’ luster, but this project was drifting to the pop sounds of that era but still heavy on the electronic dance music influences, though it attempted to ape the Akwaba Beach texture, with songs like ‘Africains’.
Around the early 2000s, Mory had tweaked his music. He shifted to creating music with an acoustic feel to it, something different from his previous hits. This period much of the 90s also saw minimal activities from the singer on the global music stage. It was the era he released Tamala – Le Voyageur, Sabou, La Guinéenne, and N’diarabi.
‘Oh Oh Oh’ off the La Guinéenne album shows how much Mory’s music had transformed but still had the electronic drive on it; he drove the incredible mid-tempo song with the fine traditional instruments. The album payed tribute to the women in Guinea his homeland and Africa on a greater scale.
The album focused on various themes centered around maintaining traditions; he advises on hard work, trust, and being grateful. Mory became a focus of critics in the 80s when he was a global sensation and ruled European electronic music airwaves for being too urban or western-leaning. The singer came back to his home country and created music based on African music structure; this, I believe, was not so that he would appease his critics, but for an artist, you have to evolve and play unique styles. After all, he was already a master of traditional music and ways even before becoming a star.
According to Mory’s website, he was to perform in Ostwald, France, on March 13, 2021, but this was not to be as he was pronounced dead in Conakry, Guinea, on May 22, this year. The iconic singer died in his sleep after suffering chest pains earlier in the day; The New York Times quotes his manager.
In 2019, the 70-year old singer was oscillating between many European countries, staging performances in several countries, including France, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, and the UK.
The singer also engaged in humanitarian work and served as a goodwill ambassador to FAO UNICEF and UNHCR.
Mory was a child from the lineage of griots; he traveled the whole world. He performed on grand stages, setting trends and telling the African story with his music that fused traditional sounds with western influences winning a global fanbase.
To my father, Meshack Mabinda, thank you for exposing me to this great musician.