Bembeya Jazz National (originally known as Orchestre de Beyla) is a Guinean jazz group that gained fame in the 1960s for their Afropop rhythms. They are considered one of the most significant bands in Guinean music. Many of their recordings are based on traditional folk music in the country and have been fused with jazz and Afropop style. Featuring guitarist Sekou "Diamond Fingers" Diabaté, who grew up in a traditional griot musical family, the band won over fans in Conakry, Guinea's capital city, during the heady days of that country's newfound independence. Bembeya Jazz fell onto harder times in the 1980s and disbanded for a number of years, but reformed in the late 1990s and toured Europe and North America in the early 2000s.
In the aftermath of the Guinean Independence in 1958 and through the cultural policy of "authenticité", which encouraged cultural pride, numerous bands were created throughout the regions of Guinea. Guinea's President, Ahmed Sékou Touré, disbanded all private dance orchestras and replaced them with state-supported groups, such as Keletigui Et Ses Tambourinis and Balla et ses Balladins. The most popular was Bembeya Jazz National, formed in 1961.
Bembeya Jazz, also referred to as the Orchestre de Beyla in the early days, started as the regional orchestra from the town of Beyla in southern Guinea. They were formed with the help of the local governor, Emile Kondé, to act as the region’s "orchestre moderne". The initial line up included Sékou Camara and Achken Kaba in the brass section on trumpets, Sékou Diabaté on guitar who was the youngest member at the time, Hamidou Diaouné on bass and Mory "Mangala" Condé on drums. Leo Sarkisian (who went on to join the Africa Service of the Voice of America in 1963) recorded Orchestre de Beyla in 1961 for the Hollywood based Tempo International label (Tempo 7015). The band were just being formed in Beyla and according to Sarkisian, called themselves Orchestra Bembeya, after a local river. The session also featured the female singer Jenne Camara as part of the band. The recording, one of ten Tempo LPs featuring a variety of Guinean music recorded by Sarkisian, was not released commercially. All 10 LPs were pressed in limited editions of 2,500 and released in 1962, but the majority of them were sent to the Guinean government. Bembeya's album was titled Sons nouveaux d'une nation nouvelle. République de Guinée. 2 Octobre 1962. 4ème anniversaire de l'independance nationale. Orchestre de Beyla and included the songs Présentation, Yarabi, Lele, Din ye kassila, Wonkaha douba, Seneiro, Wassoulou and Maniamba.
They became better known as Bembeya Jazz after the release of their first album and added singers Aboubacar Demba Camara and Salifou Kaba to the band.
Initially an acoustic group, featuring a Latin-flavored horn section of saxophone, trumpet, and clarinet, Bembeya Jazz National reached its apex with the addition of lead singer Aboubacar Demba Camara. The group toured widely, and became one of the most well-known groups in Africa. Among their biggest hits were the songs "Mami Wata" and "Armee Guineenne".
Bembeya Jazz National’s most ambitious album, Regard Sur Le Passe, released in 1968, was a musical tribute to the memory of Samory Touré, who founded a Mande conquest state in much of what is now northern Guinea in 1870, and who became a nationalist emblem following 1958.
1970s and 1980s
A live album, 10 Ans De Succes, was recorded during a 1971 concert, but set-back for the band came on April 5, 1973 when Demba Camara was killed in an auto accident on his way to a concert in Dakar. Although they remained together, Bembeya Jazz National was unable to duplicate the success of their earliest years. The group disbanded in 1991 with Sekou Diabaté and Sekouba Bambino Diabaté going on to successful solo careers.
The band reformed in the late 1990s. Bembeya Jazz came together again in 2002 to perform at the Musiques Metisses d’Angoulême world music festival in France. They remained there to record their first new album in 14 years for the director of the festival, Christian Mousset's Marabi label. The album, Bembeya, is a reworking of orchestra's greatest hits. They went on to tour Europe and North America.
Tracks on Syliphone compilations
- The Syliphone Years (2009), Sterns Music
Various artist compilations
- Authenticite - The Syliphone Years (2008), Sterns Music
- Golden Afrique (2005), Network Germany
- Allaboutjazz.com, Retrieved 18 June 2008.
- "Bembeya Jazz National". Sterns Music. 10 March 2011.
- Banning Eyre (2002). "Interview: Sekou Bembeya Diabate-2002". afropop.org. Archived from the original on 2010-06-16.
- "About Leo Sarkisian music archive". Voice of America.
- Matthew Lavoie (10 December 2008). "Bembeya’s First". Voice of America News.
- Banning Eyre (2009). "The Story of Bembeya Jazz". afropop.org.
- Counsel, Graeme. "Discography of the Tempo International catalogue". Radio Africa.
- Counsel (2009)
- Andy Morgan; Banning Eyre. "Bembeya Jazz". WOMAD. Archived from the original on 2013-04-16.
- Robin Denselow (21 November 2002). "Bembeya Jazz - Royal Festival Hall, London". The Guardian.
- Hortense Fuller (2003). "Bembeya Jazz, Guinea's Legendary Orchestra". Africa Sounds. Archived from the original on 2009-05-02.
- "Sur les traces du Bembeya Jazz". license CC BY-SA. FCAT.
- "Graeme Counsel". ConnectCP.[permanent dead link]
- Counsel, Graeme. "Discography of Bembeya Jazz National". Radio Africa.
- Roderic Knight. The Mande Sound: African Popular Music on Records. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Spring - Summer, 1989), pp. 371–376
- Thomas O'Toole and Janice E. Baker. Historical dictionary of Guinea. 4th edition. Scarecrow Press, (2005) ISBN 0-8108-4634-9 pp. 28–29
- Interview: Eric Charry (on Bembeya Jazz). Afropop Worldwide. 2003. Accessed 2009-04-11
- Sekouba "Bambino" and Guinée Conakry. Feature and photos by Martin Sinnock. Africasounds.com.
- Eric S. Charry (2000). Mande music: traditional and modern music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-10162-0.
- Graeme Counsel (2009). Mande Popular Music and Cultural Policies in West Africa: Griots and Government Policy since Independence. VDM Verlag. ISBN 978-3-639-15305-7.
- Frank Tenaille; Akwa Betote (photographs) (2002). "Bembeya Jazz and the Syliphone Elephant: The Era of National Pride in Guinea". Music Is the Weapon of the Future: Fifty Years of African Popular Music. Lawrence Hill Books. pp. 27–34. ISBN 978-1-55652-450-9.
- Graeme Counsel (2010). "Music for a coup - 'Armée Guinéenne'. An overview of Guinea's recent political turmoil". Australasian Review of African Studies - volume 31(2). pp. 94–112. ISSN 1447-8420.
- Justin Morel Junior; Souleymane Keita (2011). Bembeya Jazz National: Cinquante ans après, la légende continue... (in French). Harmattan Guinée. ISBN 978-2-296-55398-9.
- The Story of Bembeya Jazz - Afropop Worldwide radio program, 24 September 2009