Djeli Moussa Condé, Parisian griot
When the Guinean Djeli Moussa Condé moved to Paris he set up home in Ménilmontant. In the heart of this working-class neighbourhood, the kora player dreamed up a world-style album with the help of percussionist, arranger and producer Vincent Lassalle.
“I was born on 23 March 1963 in Conakry,” Djeli Moussa Condé told us just a few days after his forty-ninth birthday. “This is my first solo album,” he carried on in the same breath, as if trying to blow out all the candles on a giant birthday cake. The musician reeled off his musical life story, skipping over the low points like a needle on scratched vinyl.
In fact, back in 1993, when he chose to remain in France, the kora player recorded another eponymous solo album with a producer who never paid him one penny of the royalties. “I was working with the Kotéba Band from Abidjan at the time. We had come to present the musical Waramba, for which I composed four pieces. It wasn’t my first visit to France, but I never went back after that, deciding to focus on my music career. Paris is a musical crossroads and I knew I could evolve, meet other musicians and fulfil my desires here,” he explained.
Djeli Moussa Condé became an illegal immigrant, which didn’t stop his name appearing alongside some of the musical greats (Alpha Blondy, Manu Dibango, Cheick Tidiane Seck and Cesaria Evora) before he finally received a bone fide visa at the turn of the Millennium. A few years later, in 2003, he brought out Aduna with the New York blues singer Janice de Rosa and a helping hand from several people, including Jean-Philippe Rykiel.
“All of the tracks on this new album were recorded in Ménilmontant, the neighbourhood I lived in for over five years, and a place buzzing with African immigrants,” commented Djeli. “In Ménilmontant you’re directly connected to your homeland. There’s always someone going back, carrying messages for the family, or someone arriving with news from home. You’re split in two: part of you working on the everyday problems of housing, papers and life here, and the other focusing on problems in the land you’ve left where your family is. I’m happy to have recorded the album in Ménilmontant, my quartier, even though I’m not living there any more.”
It’s an album that Djeli Moussa Condé partly owes to Vincent Lassalle. "Vincent is my percussionist," he went on, before adding that he knows a lot of percussionists, but that Lassalle has learned the art of Mandinka percussion like no one else, performing it skilfully by ear, putting it together and blending it very differently from someone born in the tradition.
Vincent Lassalle was born on this side of the Mediterranean. He was fifteen the first time he went to Mali for a short trip, and he moved there for two years as an adult, learning to speak fluent Bambara, one of the most widely spoken African languages. “He’s an incredibly humane person and he’s given me a lot of love and support.” Together, the duo worked on the fine details of the twelve tracks that make up the album. Acting as arranger and producer, Vincent Lassalle has helped the kora player generate a sound in which African music vies with flamenco, jazz and funk.
“My music is about peace and love and anyone can listen to it,” claimed the kora player. “It aims to reduce suffering. My lyrics are about slavery (Le Dernier Regard de Goré), everyday life, treachery (Dalamoroya) and hypocrisy (Nafi) and they speak to everyone because they’re problems that affect all of us,” said the composer, who generally starts off his creations on the guitar before transposing them to the kora. “M’bemba is a song for my grandfather who was a griot too. He was my friend. My lyrics are often inspired by what he said. I haven’t forgotten anything,” he added.
“In Ménilmontant, I sing in Mandinka, Soussou (two languages widely spoken in West Africa) and French about how the slumlords evicted me from my house in 2010 when I was away in the Caribbean. I was paying €570 for 12 m2 and one shower for the whole floor.” Today Djeli Moussa Condé is living in Balard, another Parisian neighbourhood that he is just discovering. “Wherever you live, the problems are the same. In any case that’s what travelling round the world has taught me. That’s the world that inspires me: a world with no more need for war or conflict.”
Djeli Moussa Condé Djeli Moussa Condé (Polychrone/Socadisc) 2012
Playing live on 28 April at Mundo Kfé in Marseille, and on 10 May at Studio de l’Ermitage in Paris