Kante Manfila

 from http://www.radioafrica.com, http://www.rootsworld.com, and http://www.independent.co.uk:

Kanté Manfila, one of Africa’s greatest guitarists, will be remembered as the chef d’orchestre of Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, where his collaborations with Salif Keita propelled West African music to the forefront of the African music scene, thanks to songs such as “Mandjou”, “Seydou Bathily”, “Ntoma”, and “Primpin”.

Manfila was born in 1946 in Farabanah near Kankan. He is not of the Mandé griot heritage, as many journalists have assumed, but of the Mandé blacksmith. Such heritage, however, does not preclude the learning of griot instruments, and from the age of eight Manfila began to play the balafon before moving to the acoustic guitar.

Among his relatives are many prominent musicians. His cousins include Kanté Facelli, arguably Guinea’s pre-eminent guitarist and the co-founder Les Ballet Africains, and Sandaly “Balakala” Kanté, the lead guitarist with the Horoya Band and then the 22 Band. He is also related to, and often confused with, Kanté “Soba” Manfila, the lead singer of Balla et ses Balladins, and Manfila “Dabadou” Kanté, the lead singer of Keletigui et ses Tambourinis.

When he was 14 he moved to Abidjan, thus avoiding the Cultural Revolution of Sékou Touré’s Guinea. His musicianship developed rapidly and he formed his own orchestra at an early age. With them he released several singles on the local Djima label in the late 1960s. In 1972 he moved to Bamako where he joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel as the lead singer and lead guitarist.

Shortly after, Salif Keita left the Super Rail Band and joined the group. There was much talk of potential rivalry between the two singers, but this was far from the truth. Recognising and respecting each other’s talents created a deep bond, and the two worked closely together on the arrangements and lyrics of songs.

Les Ambassadeurs du Motel become the chief rival of the Super Rail Band, and only a popularity competition could decide who was the best in the eyes of the public. Hence, the Malian government asked that each group write a song to promote the new literacy campaign and then perform it at a concert where the audience would decide the winner.

The result from Manfila and Salif was “Kibaru”, a 26 minute opus. On the night of the performance, and what a gig that would have been, both bands were declared winners. Les Ambassadeurs du Motel enjoyed a great popularity thereafter in Bamako, and released many recordings.

In 1990 he  revisited Guinea with the German producer Günter Gretz to record the  Kankan Blues (PAM, 1991), which returned to the acoustic guitar sèche (“dry guitar”) style of his youth. They also made N’na Niwale (1994) back in Paris, and returned to Guinea for Back to Faranbah (1998).  These three acoustic recordings are highly recommended.  One is reviewed below.

Kante Manfila
Back to Farabanah
Popular African Music (via Stern’s http://www.sternsmusic.com)

This seductive and highly recommended album is the third recording in a series exploring the early musical influences of this Guinean guitar legend. Three songs on the album were recorded at the Tabou nightclub in Kan Kan, only a couple hundred miles upriver from the Malian capitol of Bamako, where Kante hit the big time in the mid to late 70’s with Salif Keita and Les Ambassadeurs Internationale before moving on to Abidjan and then Paris. From there, the crew drove to Kante’s home village of Farabanah, where eight other tracks were laid in a very rustic setting.

This is a beautiful recording, well-engineered, warm and intimate and yet very clean. There is a sense of ease and contentment in the recordings and yet an incredible depth and subtle tension. New generation Guinean guitarist Djessou Mory Kante lends his artistry. The only electric instrument in the mix is the bass of Sekou Diabate. A trio of female singers provides the standard backup verses on the non-instrumental songs behind Kante’s dry, earthy lead vocals.

Here is Kante Manfila’s classic arrangement of “Toubaka” (Kante Manfila-guitar, Salif Keita-vocals)




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