March 21, 2010


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


blottière said...

Thanks for this post.
Another great song by the Ambassadeurs, recorded in Ivory Coast (1978) here:


george said...

Great thanks for this post.
I know that nowadays Keletigue Diabate is a member of Habib Koite's band "Bamada". There were in Moscow two or three years ago - maestro plays on balafon and in one or two songs on violin. And i bought on the concert his solo disk with records of various times (there is even on song of "National orchestre du Mali".
It's interesting, if Kante Manfila has some activities in our times?

aduna said...


I also post a Sonafric lp today (SAF 50 022). Many thanks for that one.

Scott said...

As ever, thanks for the continuing treasures.

In Mande Music (p 274), Eric Charry offers identification for the members of the band in your included photo. He indicates that your suggested Sekou Diabaté is actually Issa Niaré. Next to Keletigui Diabaté is Modibo Cone and after Ousmane Dia comes Kabine 'Tagus' Traoré. The unidentified seated figure next to Salif Keita is someone simply called 'Dama'.

calumbinho said...

WOW!! Thanks for a truly speacial treat!!

tom said...

If someone could help identify their tailor, that would even be better.

james said...

thansk so muche, this LP is beautiful....

Jonah said...

Many thanks for this amazing album! I had previously hunted down one track, but am very pleased to have the whole album now.
Beautiful tracks, they rank up there with my favorites from this time period/region.
Any chance of sharing Volume One?
Thanks again for making my day.

Anonymous said...

An album with good songs but not the masterpiece of which I dreamed seeing the cover of the old Ambassadeurs.

The three songs sung by Salif are very beautiful but do not mix very well with others, Nagana and Djula are sung in Soninke. (Previously released on single)

Nagana a history of newborn lambs in need of feed as the Soninke and Bambara brothers at last.

Djoula speaks of the sufferings of the traders who have to migrate to feed their families.

Mbouram Mousso and Tiecolomba of Kanté Manfila I find the tastiest but can't understand the texts in Bambara, the first I think it speaks of the mother-in law and Tiekolomba I can hear the battery makes the sound of the Karinyan and the choirs replicate the style of the hunters. (Also published in single)

Salimata and Ray'Mbote sung in Wolof, Salimata the typical song weeping mom-child fails,in fault of a bit of Senegales spice to neutralize so sweet,even Keletigui Diabaté is lost, may be the only time in his live,and Ray'Bote I seems to have heard before but did not locate.

But my great dececión not find inside the theme of the clip "Que Será Lo Que Pelean",this wonderful version of one of my favorite songs.

WrldServ said...

@Ngoni: I'm afraid I don't understand your last sentence. Could you clarify this?

Anonymous said...

While downloading the album I was enjoying a couple of times the clip with the fantastic interpretation of the Ismael Miranda theme and I went warming with the idea that this was the atmosphere of the entire album, but when he began to hear I was in another galaxy.

By the way, there will be an older version than Larry Harrow? I have the feeling of having heard an oldest Cuban version.

WrldServ said...

It is interesting that you too have the impression that there must be an older version of "Que Será Lo Que Pelean". I will try and investigate when I go to Cuba later this year.

Prof Babacar said...

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I reverently bow to you.
My 10 F CFA are posted there: