In the spring of 1973 Salif Keita left the Rail Band to join Les Ambassadeurs du Motel. About the move he states (in Florent Mazzoleni's "Salif Keita - La voix du Mandingue): "With the Rail Band I learned nothing, we only played what we heard. Les Ambassadeurs were more experienced: we weren't playing modernised folklore. Les Elephants Noirs* were intellectuals. Arriving at the group I signed an apprenticeship contract to study music. We really played all kinds of music. We were like a real family, I really felt more at ease with Les Ambassadeurs. We rehearsed and studied the songs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and played them the same evening."
So Les Ambassadeurs were sophisticated and 'hip', while the Rail Band were a bunch of folk music amateurs. Leader of the hip team was Guinean guitarist Manfila Kanté, who had joined the orchestra a year before Salif, coming from Ivory Coast. He succeeded Malian sax player Moussa 'Vieux' Sissoko as chef d'orchestre. Among the other team members were Tagus Traoré (trumpet) from Guinea and singer Ousmane Dia, a Senegalese who had played with the legendary Star Band. But the majority came from Mali, with organist Idrissa Sumaoro (who will the subject of a future post), rhythm guitarist Amadou Bagayoko (of Amadou & Mariam fame), multi-instrumentalist (flute, balafon, violin) Keletigui Diabaté and singer Beidy Sacko.
I am sure I have not mentioned all of the members. In fact, I would like to use this occasion to ask for your help in identifying the members on the photo which was used for both albums released on the Sonafric label in 1977. I realise that not all members of Les Ambassadeurs are in the photo, but I think it would be a good start to at least identify those that are. Starting at the top row: Idrissa Sumaoro. Then, standing, from left to right: Keletigui Diabaté, ?, Ousmane Dia, ?, Sekou Diabaté?(bass player) and Manfila Kanté. Sitting or crouching: Vieux Sissoko, Amadou Bagayoko, Salif Keita, ?.
Any suggestion or corrections are welcomed.
The two albums released in 1977 were the last of Les Ambassadeurs before they went 'international', i.e. moved from Bamako to Abidjan. In the move they lost one of the key members which is still present in the line-up for this album: organist Idrissa Sumaoro. In the second volume, which I am sharing with you in this post, he is present as an organist in five of the seven tracks, and as a singer in the two tracks composed by Manfila Kanté. Although I am sure many will qualify these tracks as "funky", but in fact both these tracks are somewhat jazzy interpretations of rhythms borrowed from Malian hunters music.
Another remarkable presence in this album is Ousmane Dia. On this volume he 'only' has two tracks (on Volume One he had three), and they may not be as dramatic as the over-the-top "Super Pitié" of Volume One, but they are certainly more Senegalese.
But to me, the tracks that make this album into a classic are the three tracks by Salif Keita. The first, "N'na", is a cover of a song made famous by one of Keita's musical heroes, Sory Kandia Kouyaté. Originally a song from the repertoire (like many of the Guinean classics) of Les Ballets Africains, Les Ambassadeurs manage to retain the solemn tone of the original, while adding some typical Ambassadeurs colouring to it.
The 'killers' of this album are "Nagana" and "Djoula". Salif is at his best in these tracks which lean heavily on Malian traditional (or 'folkloric') music.
Sonafric SAF 50.031
In this video recorded by Malian television the Malian line-up is still complete. I am not sure if this means that the recordings were made before their move to Abidjan. This song would suggest the recordings were from a date later than 1978, as it is a cover of "Que Será Lo Que Pelean", a hit from 1978 by Ismael Miranda and the orchestra of Larry Harlow. I assume the lead singer in this song is Beidy Sacko, supported by Ousmane Dia (on the right) and presumably Sambou Diakité on the left.
* one of the Ivorian predecessors of Les Ambassadeurs