Kanazoé Orkestra: Miriya

Griot-politics

Listening Post 117. It’s unlikely Donald Trump has heard Kanazoé Orkestra’s stirring debut album, but when he told a group of African leaders that he has many friends “going to your countries, trying to get rich,” he unwittingly validated the exploitation lament in the album’s lead song, Fantanya (Poverty). “Why is Africa poor?” asks the lyric, written by bandleader Seydou Kanazoé Diabaté, “Here we find gold and diamonds, but they go abroad/We grow coffee…/We grow rice…/But there is hunger” (video 1). Born in Burkina Faso, Diabaté is from a family of griots, the oral historian/poet/troubadors of West Africa, and started playing the balafon at age five. Now living in France, his Orkestra includes two countrymen, Zaky Diarra and Mamadou Dembélé, also singer-songwriters and instrumentalists (balafon, n’goni, flute). Rounding out the band are Martin Etienne (sax), Elvin Bironien (bass), Stéphane Perruchet (percussion) and Laurent Planells (drums), producing a stunning synthesis of Mandé music with jazz improvisations, and framing songs about values, family, love and war performed in the Dioula language. Folo Folo (Old Times) evokes an idealized era: “Let us remember the past because it was sweet/There was joy between brothers/We all ate together” (video 2, featuring vocals by Dobet Gnahoré). Nafolo (Money) focuses on the corrupting influence of riches: “If you have wealth but no conscience, you grow distant from friends and neighbors, dehumanizing yourself” (video 3, featuring keyboardist Jean-Philippe Rykiel). Other standout tracks are the entrancing, n’goni-driven Faden Yélé (Shame of the Family), about griot sons who don’t follow the hereditary profession; and Dianfa (Betrayal), a taut ode to fidelity in love and music. Summation: Miriya (Reflections) features immigrants wary of money who are engaged in musical free trade. Definitely not on the playlist of one world figure, but great, inspiring sound for the rest of us. (Buda Records)

 

 

 

 

 


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