Zouk or Manding, Sékouba Bambino provides a choice
Two very different albums from the Guinean singer
In this Olympic year, the gold medal for the big musical divide incontestably goes to Sékouba Bambino, whose albums Innovation and Diatiguyw have taken him on a journey of opposites, which is inherently logical given his double stature as a successful pop singer and griot.
RFI Music: Why have you taken the risk of bringing out two albums at the same time, given that the record industry hasn’t stopped shrinking for a decade? Sékouba Bambino: A few months ago I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my career. And I said to myself that I had to release an album or rather two, because they’re very different styles. Innovation has titles which made me popular in 1989-90, like Bambour (renamed Berce-moi – Ed.) or Ouba Cisse, which I did again 100 percent in zouk. For the second album, however, as a griot I also had to thank certain people who have been with me for twenty years. We call them diatiguiya; they’re my tutors.
On the Innovation CD, how did you get the idea to cook your old songs in a zouk sauce?
When I’ve done concerts, there’ve been some songs that I’ve often tried to change, to see what will happen. As they were well received when I played them in a zouk style, I thought that I should do an album in the same vein and see where it led us. That’s why we thought about Manu Lima from the Cape Verde, a good arranger who gave this album a lot of colour. I’d already worked with him, but not on a personal project. I worked with him when I was invited by Kabine Kandia Kouyate to work on his album Kouyate & Kouyate. He’s Sory Kandia Kouyate’s son.
Who are the "tutors" to whom you have dedicated songs on the other album, Diatiguyw?
Each diatigui contributed in their own way to my twenty-year career. Let’s take, for example, the piece Kaba Mousso, for Fatoumata Kaba: she’s a sister, a mother. She did everything for me. Each time I left France for Guinea, she brought me meals every day so that I wasn’t hungry – for breakfast, lunch and supper. She took care of my transport, sent me a car so that I didn’t have to walk the whole time I was there. She’s taken care of that for years. In the song, I say she’s someone who’s been sitting next to me for ages. Habiba, she’s a Tuareg, a Malian who’s always beside me each time I go to Mali. A woman without fault. As a griot, if I didn’t have a music career, I would have lived with my diatiguiya.
You’re celebrating your twenty-year career as a solo artist, but it mustn’t be forgotten that you made your debut with Bembeya Jazz National. What made you leave this legendary Guinean orchestra?
When President Sekou Touré died, four years after inviting me to join the group, he had already privatised all the national orchestras. And when we returned from a European tour with Bembeya, we didn’t play for two years because there wasn’t any equipment. We didn’t work. So I asked the conductor of the orchestra, Asken Kaba, if it were possible for me to do an album with my ideas using the orchestra’s name. Everyone agreed and so I recorded Sama.
With the group Africando, you’ve been supporting African salsa for more than 15 years. What is your personal story with this music?
To tell the truth, until I joined Africando in 1996, I’d never played salsa. The only salsero that I listened to in my childhood was Gnonnas Pedro. A lot of Guinean artists were influenced by this music – Balla et ses Balladins, Keletigui… But me, I grew up in a Guinean village on the border with Mali. During my childhood I often went to Bamako, 260 Km away, while Conakry is more than 600 Km away. At home we could tune in to Malian radio stations more easily than Guinean ones. My singers were Salif Keita, Mory Kanté, Kassé Mady Diabaté. Not artists that really did salsa. In 1996, while I was on tour in Germany, Bongana Maïga (a very well known Malian arranger – Ed.) called me to say that he needed me in Africando because he was looking for a Manding voice. He wanted Kassé Mady Diabaté, but he couldn’t get hold of him and in the meantime my name was mentioned. That’s how it started. I returned to Guinea and they sent me a ticket for New York to join Africando.
Sékouba Bambino Innovation (Lusafrica) 2012
Sékouba Bambino Diatiguyw (Syllart Productions) 2012