Filed under: Guinea
Guinea was created as a colony by France in 1890. The capital Conakry was founded on Tombo Island in the same year. In 1895 the country was incorporated into French West Africa. On 28 September 1958, under the direction of Charles de Gaulle, Metropolitan France held a referendum on a new constitution and the creation of the Fifth Republic. The colonies, except Algeria, which was legally a direct part of France, were given the choice between immediate independence or retaining their colonial status. All colonies except Guinea opted for the latter. Thus, Guinea became the first French African colony to gain independence, at the cost of the immediate cessation of all French assistance.
After independence Guinea was governed by the President Ahmed Sékou Touré. Some called Touré was considered a “Mao-style” socialist, while others called him a dictator. He applied his command-economy beliefs to the arts as well as to trade and agriculture. Under his leadership, Guinea joined the Non-Aligned Movement and pursued close ties with the Eastern Bloc.
Prior to the Guinea’s independence, most of the musicians working in Conakry’s top nightclubs and hotels were Europeans, playing French and American show tunes and dance music. Guinean musicians were found lower down the economic ladder, in neighbourhood dancehalls, but they too played a repertoire mainly made up of waltzes, foxtrots and Latin American dance tunes. The names of the leading Guinean bands – La Douce Parisette, L’Africana Swing Band, Le Harlem Jazz Band and Les Joviales Symphonies – speak for themselves.
Within months of achieving power, Sékou Touré’s Ministry of Culture disbanded all European-style bands in the country and directed their musicians to “return to authentic African rhythms and tunes”. The policy was called ‘Authenticité’ and Touré backed it up with state sponsorship of newly formed national and regional bands as well as the state owned record label Editions Syliphone Conakry. There were regular festivals at which the regional bands competed for national status. The best bands were awarded with the title Orchestre National and had the possibility to travel to Cuba to learn more about Afro-cuban music. At its peak, the state supported seven national bands.
‘Authenticité’ notwithstanding, the music played by the national and regional bands included some non-Guinean elements. Ghanaian highlife was a signifcant influence – E.T. Mensah And His Tempos Band toured Guinea within a few weeks of independence and were rapturously received – as was Cuban music, so hardwired into Guinean music, from which it largely derived, that even Touré couldn’t expunge it (and following the Cuban revolution of 1959, he probably felt he didn’t need to anyway). A little later, Congolese rumba was another heady infusion.
Woven into these imported influences was traditional Guinean music, uniquely rich in polyrhythms, mainly of the Manding and Foulah peoples. The synthesis was cool and loose-limbed, a relaxed but insistent dance style played in the main by ten-piece and bigger line-ups featuring vocals, three or four electric guitars, horn sections, balafons (xylophones), kit drums and traditional percussion.
After the death of Sékou Touré, this State support came to an end, concerts became rare and money for recording was not available anymore. Many bands eventually disintegrated as working conditions deteriorated.
Formed in 1961, the Horoya Band de Kankan won the best orchestra prize in 1967, 1968 and 1971 at the Quinzaine Artistiques Festival. They were nationalised in 1971. The band was led by Métoura Traoré (although for this single, both songs were written and conducted by Lansina Kanté). They recorded two albums and a handful of singles between 1969 and 1974, as well as a number of compilation appearances under either the name Horoya Band, Horoya Band National or National Horoya Band.
The majority of the information for this posting came from Chris May’s review of the compilation Authenticité: The Syliphone Years Guinea’s Orchestres Nationaux & Federaux 1965 to 1980 on Sterns Music which features the song “Karan-Gbegne” (which translates to ‘Maninka Whip’, the martinet of Koranic school teacher).
Catalog number SYL 546 on Editions Syliphone Conakry of Guinea, released 1972