Néba Solo

Born : 1968 in Nebadougou (Mali)
Country : Mali
Language : Bambara
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : world music

Souleymane Traoré - better known to music fans as Neba Solo - was born in the Kenedegou region in the south of Mali in 1968. Born and raised in a traditional Senoufo peasant family, Souleymane grew up in the village of Nebadougou where his father - a musician and renowned local instrument-maker - initiated him to the joys of the balafon. Dividing his time between agricultural work and his passion for the balafon, Souleymane went on to make a name for himself on the local music scene, performing with his elder brother. The balafon genius

Souleymane Traoré - better known to music fans as Neba Solo - was born in the Kenedegou region in the south of Mali in 1968. Born and raised in a traditional Senoufo peasant family, Souleymane grew up in the village of Nebadougou where his father - a musician and renowned local instrument-maker - initiated him to the joys of the balafon. Dividing his time between agricultural work and his passion for the balafon, Souleymane went on to make a name for himself on the local music scene, performing with his elder brother. The balafon genius

Adopting a new stage name, Neba Sola, Souleymane left his native village and moved to the regional capital, Sikasso (first port of call for Malians looking to emigrate to neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire). Neba's music career went from strength to strength in Sikasso and, thanks to his original playing style, he soon established himself as the "balafon genius". Reputed for his complete mastery of the instrument - "he plays so fast it almost looks as if the balafon is playing itself," remarked one critic - Neba has marked himself out from the crowd by changing the traditional tuning on his big bass balafon and adopting the highly unusual technique of playing the instrument from left to right.

 

Neba's reputation soon ratcheted up from local to national level after the jury of the "Doudounba Top" festival unanimously voted him Best Festival Artist. Neba and his percussion group - made up of two balafons, two bara drums and traditional Malian percussion instruments, the titiara and the karignan - also went down a storm on national television, appearing on the popular Malian TV show Top Etoiles. Not surprisingly, Neba and his group went on to win the award for Best Malian Band of the Year in 1996.

 

This victory soon brought the "balafon genius" to the attention of international 'world' music promoters and invitations to perform concerts outside Mali soon began flooding in. First off the mark was Philippe Conrath, director of the popular Africolor Festival held in Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs. Conrath invited Neba and his band to appear at the festival in 1998 where they brought the house down at one of the famous Mandingo nights. Following this success Conrath whisked Neba into the studio to record his debut album, "Kénédegou Folly", released on Conrath's Cobalt label in 1998.

Afro-electro fusion

 

Confirming his reputation at Abidjan's African Arts festival ("Masa") the following year, Neba went on to perform at a series of music festivals across Europe. Meanwhile, Neba's hypnotic sound - reminiscent of Philip Glass's experimental works as well as the African adventures of the Kronos Quartet - came to the ears of leading French DJ Frédéric Galliano. Galliano, who is renowned for his original electro cross-overs, was on the look-out for new sounds to mix with his electro beats and when he heard the haunting sound of Neba's balafon he fell under its spell. Galliano invited Neba to participate in an Afro-electro project on his newly-launched label, Frikyiwa, and the balafon star soon found his work remixed electro-style. The results – which included Jeff Sharel's "Cinporoko Nonougoro" and Frédéric Galliano's "Noumou Folly" - were released on a vinyl EP entitled "Frikyiwa 00" in 2000.

 

Thanks to his exposure on Galliano's "Frikyiwa" label, Neba Solo (together with fellow Malian star Issa Bagayogo) is now as big a hit with 'ethno-techno' clubbers as he is with traditional African music fans. And a new re-worked version of "Kenedegou Folly" was released on the Mali K7 label in 2000 under the new title "Kené Balafons".

 

At the end of 2001 Neba brought the house down at Africolor's Mandingo nights in Saint-Denis once again, where he received star billing alongside Iranian group The Chemirani Trio. His concerts attracted a huge turn-out of Malian music fans from the Paris suburb of Montreuil - a place which surely ranks as the second most important Malian community in the world after Bamako!

 

Neba also returned to his homeland in the latter part of 2001 to record "Can 2002", a football anthem for the African Cup of Nations (held in Bamako at the beginning of 2002). Mali's national football team may have been knocked out in the semi-final by Cameroon, but the championship has just begun as far as Neba's career is concerned. And judging by his recent success on the Paris club scene and at the local grins in Bamako, the "balafon genius" has a long way to go yet!

 

April 2002

 

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