Mory Kante, in search of innovation
La Guinéenne, the latest album from the creator o Yeke Yeke.
Mory Kanté, who is in his sixties, has created an album filled with empathy for his fellow-countrywomen in his latest release, La Guinéenne. In 1987, he showcased his ability with Yeke Yeke, the album where he made his indisputable mark on African music. An interview.
RFI Music: When you started thinking about this album, what was the main idea behind it?
Mory Kanté: It takes me time to do an album, to develop my artistic plan so that I can choose in what way I’m going to structure the work. In each album that I do, there must be innovation, which leaves a mark. This time, I used quite a lot of brass instruments, slightly modernising the sound and rhythm. African music mustn’t stagnate; it’s indispensable that it finds solutions, doors, windows. We must think about writing for brass, and developing beautiful voices, because in my music, choirs are like instruments.
Do you like working in the studio, or is it a requirement when producing a new album?
I like it a lot. That’s why I take my time. I’m a composer, author, arranger. I’m responsible for the artistic direction and I mustn’t deviate from my path, regardless of the nature of the album. The people I work with know how I work: the music comes first, finding innovation that people can remember, that’s very important. And the lyrics come last. We recorded La Guinéenne in my complex in Conakry. The studios weren’t completely finished – I’ve got one 24 track and one 48 track studio. We didn’t rush, and at the same time I also took care of my mother, right up until she died.
How did you design your cultural complex, which has been close to your heart for a long time, and where the RFI Découvertes 2012 prizewinner, Sia Tolno, recorded her album?
Most Guinean musicians need the complex and its studios. They feel comfortable there. There’s a restaurant, bar, and theatre, and the hotel will be finished. It’s become a meeting place every Friday for young musicians, modern as well as traditional, from all regions. Some of them call me when they’re busy recording, and I come and give my advice, free.
What inspired you to call your album La Guinéenne? Is it related to the scandal in which Nafissatou Diallo* is involved ?
I hope that people aren’t going to confuse the Guinean woman I’ve evoked and the other Guinean woman from New York! In fact, I’m talking about all Guinean women. Their beauty, their passion, their courage, their intelligence. I grew up on my mother and my grandmother’s backs. They took me down when they arrived in a place, because griots go from village to village. My uncles played and they brought along my little balafon. I saw things from an African woman’s point of view. What they do in the fields, planting yams. Grinding millet and cassava. Going to the river to draw water, their baby on their back. In the evening, doing the cooking, with the smoke from the wood fire. I saw all that suffering. I thought about my mother, about women, about everything they did during colonisation until independence, about those women who fought on Africa’s front line. These women are at the cutting edge of development in our country. That’s why I sang their praise. They give birth to children, become their guardian angels, teach them how to walk and talk, let them dance on their knees, help them to become men… Hats off to women!
What made you change from the balafon to the kora, which has become your symbol?
It’s a love story. When I was young, I knew about basic koras, like the soron. One day, I heard Alla La Ke by Batourou Sekou Kouyate, during a radio news bulletin. I was amazed. And then I had the chance to go and live with my aunt in Bamako, where I became friends with one of Batourou Sekou Kouyate’s children. And when the old gent went out, I went and played the kora in his son’s room. One day, he caught us. I was scared to death, but he told me to sit down and play, and he accompanied us, sitting between his son and me. Since then, he’s become my spiritual father. He gave me this kora, which accompanied him during part of his youth and is now 84 years old – it’s my first wife. When he gave it to me, he said: “May this kora nourish you and also nourish your children and grandchildren.” It’s also the first electric kora in the world, and even if there are people who said I was being irreverent, my wish has been granted, because this kora plays in many modern bands.
When the time comes, do you know whom you’ll give it to?
Not yet. Maybe one of my grandsons, because he likes it a lot. Maybe a girl. Nowadays there are women in Guinea who play the kora very well.
*A young woman from Guinea involved in the Strauss-Kahn case in New York.
Mory Kanté La Guinéenne (Discograph) 2012