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Bembeya Jazz Bembeya Review

Album. Released 6 September 2004.  

BBC Review

Guinean legends return with their first album in 14 years. Swinging Afro cuban dance...

Maud Hand 2002

President Sekou Toure's reign in Guinea in the sixties failed economically but his cultural programme's most successful legacy was Bembeya Jazz. They became one of the country's leading dance orchestras, having won first place in a state-funded arts festival. Bembeya, their latest release and first record in 14 years, re-visits the repertoire of their heyday. The result is an album with as much mastery as their 60s recordings yet full of renewed vigour.

Bembeya swings so sweetly, I wanted to wallow permanently in its gentle yet gutsy grooves. Under the musical arrangement of lead guitarist, Sekou Diabate, aka Diamond Fingers who buoys up live gigs with his Shaggy-style growls, Bembeya retain the classic elements of their original line-up. A complex guitar trio set the melodies which are punctuated by a cheeky brass section. Harmonies come courtesy of three male singers while the percussion, bass and drums ensure the sound is wrapped in the rhythms of their Guinean ancestors.

"Gbapie" sends me hurtling to Honolulu on hearing Sekous sentimental Hawaiian guitar. It's a love song about a beautiful girl. Once the boy asks her to dance, the song shifts from South Seas romance to the fiery rhythms of West Africa.

Youssouf Bah's version of Demba Camara's classic "Lefa", exudes beauty as does "Soli Au Wassoulou". A little further digging reveal both songs are traditionally sung by girls during circumcision. It leaves me chilled to be so enchanted by their easy rhythms yet ignorant of the lyrics' darker reality. Yet for these mostly Muslim musicians, traditional folklore informs their music, be it a homage to heroes on "Yelema Yelemaso" or songs of sorcerers on "Sanfaran".

It's the era for veteran revivals. Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club stormed world stages and Senegal's Orchestra Baobab have followed. Now its the turn of Bembeya Jazz. Their seminal blend of jazz, Afro-Cuban music and roots traditions continues to influence modern West and Central African music. These masterful Guinean musicians are enjoying a fresh stint in the sun and on the evidence of this album, rightly so!

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