For a very long time this Kanté Manfla has been a complete and utter mystery to me. And to be frank, he still is.
When I first heard his music, it was clear to me that, despite the fact that he had recorded in Abidjan, he was in fact from Guinea. You don't have to be a great expert to hear this. His "Wamolo" is the same song as Paillote's "N'Dianamolou"(from SLP 3). And all the other tracks on the first EP I heard could have easily have been performed by Bembeya, Orchestre de la Garde Republicaine or any of the other glorious orchestres from 1960s Guinea.
I hasten to add that any recording on Syliphone has a head start, just from being recorded by one of the most original and authentic labels in African history.
So who was this Kanté Manfla? It was soon suggested that this must be one of the Kanté Manfla's with a history with one of the great national orchestras. But he doesn't sound a bit like either the singer with the same name from Les Balladins or like the one from Les Tambourinis or Paillote.
A usually reliable source suggested it was the Kanté Manfila who often is heard on Guinean radio, with just an acoustic guitar. Although I had no way of confirming this, it seemed unlikely.
I have asked several people who visited Conakry to check if they could find any more music by or information about this remarkable artist, - but no luck there. Even older musicians were unable to identify the artist and his music.
Then a friend found two more EP's, - and confusion reigned again.
The first of the two contained a cover of Bembeya's "Loi Cadré" titled "Bara Serah"; and then there is "Nebi Ikononnan", a version of a (non-Syliphone) Bembeya song featuring Aboubacar Demba Camara and probably titled "Conakry Capitale" (which I will post at a later date). Just listening to the music one would be tempted to date this version before the one by Bembeya. But did Bembeya copy it from this Kanté Manfla, of whom nobody had heard in Guinea?
The real 'killer' came in the first song of the second EP when the singer cited the name of Sory Bamba. Sory Bamba? What was he doing there? Was this what he was doing before he took charge of Kanaga, the regional orchestra of Mopti?
The B-side left me even more confused. This starts with a song commemorating John F. Kennedy, who as you may remember was assasinated in November 1963. If the song was anything like current, it would date all these three records in 1964, or earlier (and therefore older than any of the Syliphone songs)!
Enlightenment came when I saw the "Clash Mandingue" CD on the Oriki Music label last year. Of course! Studying the sleeves again I recognised the overbite of the later guitarist of Les Ambassadeurs. I had heard that this Kanté Manfila had a history with Les Ballets Africains, which helped to explain the (mutual) source of his and Paillote's songs*.
There remain, however, plenty of questions unanswered. The recordings on "Clash Mandingue" are said to have been made in 1968. Also they were originally released on the Ivorian Djima label. But these three EP's are on the Philips label, and re-released from the (also Ivorian) Safie Deen label. Also I would estimate - as I have indicated before - these songs to be from 1964 or earlier.
So what does it mean? Did Kanté Manfla and Sory Bamba meet and record before?
If there is anyone out there capable of solving this mystery, please step forward!
Philips 424.652 BE
Philips 424.655 BE
Philips 424.656 BE
*In fact, most bands from that golden era of Guinean music found a great source of inspiration in the repertoire of Les Ballet Africains.