December 24, 2008


As promised another post about Amadou Balaké.
First I would like to refer you to a biography by Joachim Vokouma on It is in French, so here is a partial translation:

His adventure as professional musician starts off in 1962, in Mali. He's enlisted into the orchestra of the Grand Hotel, that plays every night in the Moulin Rouge, a night club in Bamako.

In 1963 he leaves the Malian capital and finishes up in Abidjan, where he plays, with Italians, at the Tropicana, in the Ivoire hotel. The collabaration lasts a mere six months and our adventurer decides to leave for Guinea. Thanks to the good care of a (lady) friend who is a member of the bureau politique of the PDG (Parti Démocratique de Guinée), the single party at the time, he is appointed chef d'orchestre of the Horoya Band from Kankan.

Very soon, the relations between this 'married lady' and her protégé take on a nature which hardly pleases the latter. In the end he decides to pack his bags, and sets off, first to Conakry, and subsequently to Mamou where, in charge of the Bafing Jazz, he participates in artistic competitions. He is invited regularly to perform at the meetings organized by the president Sékou Touré in the interior of the country.

In the first years after independence, the relationship of the Guinean leader Sékou Touré with some of his African counterparts is very low, in particular with the presidents Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, Maurice Yaméogo of Upper Volta (the present Burkina Faso) and Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal. Amadou Traoré will be a victim of this hate between the socialist camp and that of the pro-western (leaders).

Denouncing his great closeness to the former colonial power, Sékou Touré refers to the Ivorian president as a lackey of French imperialism, hostile to African unity. In defense of Houphouët-Boigny, the president of Upper-Volta replies and calls Sékou Touré a representative of communism, the real enemy of the Africans. On the airwaves of the national radio he attacks Sékou Touré in terms of a coarse nature unworthy of a head of state. "Who is this Sékou, also known as Touré, who longs so much that we talk about him? An arrogant man, a liar, jealous, envious, brutal, hypocrite, ungrateful, intellectually dishonest... You're nothing but a bastard amongst the bastards that populate the world. That's what you are, Sékou, a bastard of bastards."

On this the entourage of Sékou Touré turnes to Amadou Traoré and asks him to compose a song in response to the president of Upper-Volta who, in the eyes of Sékou Touré is nothing but a "travelling salesman for the division Africa and an errant boy of Houphouët-Boigny". Which he refuses. "How can I return home (to my country) if I insult my president", he justifies himself. Seeing the clouds appear on the horizon, Amadou Traoré asks and is granted a meeting with the Guinean number one and expresses his wish to go back to see his mother. Much to his surprise, Sékou Touré doesn't object, even offers him travellers cheques, as the Guinean franc was not convertible.

Back in his country he joins the Harmonique Voltaique where he has played before leaving his country and which is now directed by Maurice Simporé. The song he composes, "Balaké", which signifies "porcupine" in mandingue (Malinké), is a hit, mediawise and commercial in several African countries. Ever since, he is called "Balaké".

This sudden succes was however going cause him trouble. According to Amadou Balaké, Maurice Simporé "chased me out of the group arguing that the Harmonique Voltaïque isn't a mandingue orchestra. A false pretext, because in fact he was jealous of my popularity", he believes.

With his experience as a worker in Civil Engineering, Amadou Balaké is recruited by ITS, a German company that in 1969 has taken on the asphalting of the road from Ouagadougou to Pô. As a result of an accident at work Amadou Balaké breaks his right leg and he feels more or less condemned to make a succes of his musical career. In 1970, he forms a group called "Les 5 Consuls de Balaké" that brighten up the evenings at the Don Camillo, then located not far from cinema Rialé.

In 1971 he records an lp "Mdolla Yacouba" ("my lover Yacouba") with Adama Ouédraogo, boss of the Club Voltaïque de Disques. Next he is recruited by a young Nigerian producer residing in Abidjan, Aboudou Lassissi, whose financial proposals were not uninteresting. With him, Amadou Balaké records (in Ibadan) "Taximan n'est pas gentil", which was very well received by press and public.
Unfortunately the biography speeds up immensely in 1971, because the encounter with Lassissi is, if I am not mistaken, at least five or six years later.

I would like to focus in this post on some recordings made between 1971 and 1976 at the Club Voltaïque de Disques of Adama Ouédraogo.

Disques CVD 46:
This record contains a song dedicated to the memory of Aboubacar 'Demba' Camara (the legendary singer of Bembeya Jazz who was killed in a car crash on April 5, 1973), with several quotes from Demba's songs. The B-side is not a version of the track on Amadou Balaké à New York (LS 22-79), but a track in the 'funky' style of "Super Bar Konon Moussou" and others, composed by a certain Abdoulaye Derme.
Disques CVD 48:
Balaké accompanied by the Volta Jazz orchestra in a track that reminds me more of Malian orchestras (apart from the Demba-like exlamations), and with what sounds like a typical Balaké story. The track is covered on the cassette I posted earlier. The track "Johnny" on the B-side appears to deal with a similar subject of 'tough guys'.

Disques CVD 52:
On the A-side the brilliant original of the song he covered in 1981 on the Afro-Charanga lp. Even the guitarist seems inebriated. And on the B-side a song in Balaké thanks his woman for cleaning his clothes and preparing his meals (with a revealing line: "Ma femme ne sort pas la nuit, elle est toujours pour moi" - "my wife doesn't go out at night, she is always mine").
Another original version, but this time of the Africando hit "Betece" (or should I say "Motécé"?). Great track. The B-side was covered several times as "Voiture D'Occasion" (Zamidou Prod. 1582, 1981) and "Super Mobili Occasion" (on the CVD 008 lp).

Disques CVD 66:
Balaké is not mentioned on the sleeve, but does sing the lead on both tracks. I think it's safe to assume Mangue Kondé is the guitarist...
Disques CVD 83:
On the A-side all the ingredients of tracks like "Taximen" are present, albeit with a more pronounced horn section. The B-side is a familiar sounding (but I can't recall where I heard it before) version of the Malinké track.

A special christmassy thanks to Faas T. for these great 45s.

PS: you can hear parts of another of these CVD records here.

EDIT (Jan.4, 2009): Lamine Camara, the present chef d'orchestre of the Horoya Band, is quite definite about Amadou Balaké never being a member of the orchestra, let alone chef d'orchestre, reports Graeme Counsel (I asked him to check this).


oro said...

thank you or this christmas' presents.

Again you make us discover treasures from Balaké. Merci mille fois et longue vie.

calumbinho said...

Amazing post, thanks a lot & have a great holiday

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Balake tunes.



oro said...

thank you, thank you again. I am mounted by the balaké's god. Quel bonheur d'écouter ces fabuleux titres de Amadou Traoré. Il est aussi dangereux et puissant que Polyrythmo.

trumpetaaa said...

thank you thank you i cant thank you too much

ReeBee said...

mercì, thanks, grazie!!

thegaviero said...

Please post more such gems from Balake.

Also Sekou Diamante and Sekouba Bambino.

Roxana27 said...

wonderful... can you post the "afro-charanga" lp too ?