May 17, 2010

Balafon bwaba

This post is dedicated to another musical hero who is at risk of disappearing into the dark mist of time. Already you - like me - will find it hard to find any information about this maestro of the bwaba balafon* from Burkina Faso. The fact that his first name is more than likely incorrectly spelled on this cassette makes the challenge even greater. And his family name is not only common in circles of burkinabe music, but almost synonymous with the bwaba balafon.

Aladari Dembelé was, however, also something of a one-hit star. "Was", because unfortunately he is no longer with us; he died on Sunday, February 13, 2005, after a prolonged period of illness, which had kept him from performing for several years. Born in the Kossi province in the Boucle de Mouhoun region of Burkina Faso, Aladari seems to have lived a fairly anonymous life as a musician, until in 1988 he recorded and released this cassette titled "Sodassiya".

The song was sung in dioula, which meant it had a potential audience not just in Burkina Faso, but in the whole of West-Africa. It is a comical tale about a deserter (i.e. from military service). Unconfirmed sources claim that it is a true story and that the deserter (allegedly from the colonial forces) was in fact Aladari himself.
Those with some knowledge of the french language will perhaps be able to grasp (part of) the gist of the story, - especially when keeping in mind that many of the words referring to 'western inventions' and the military were borrowed from the french. And I wouldn't be surprised if "Voyassi", the title of the song on the B-side of the cassette, was actually "voyage"....
The interjecting of a few of these semi-french words usually acts a trigger to my (admittedly overactive) imagination, and tends to make me even more curious about the lyrics (and not just in west-african music).

Note, by the way, the exceptional quality of this cassette. My guess is that this is also due to the strikingly forceful sound of the bwaba balafon. And to illustrate this I am adding one video, borrowed from fababobo, and some links to other bawaba videos (which as it happens are from the same remarkable source).

cass FA 016/VL4

Other videos:
Tegneni Dembelé
Tegneni Dembelé (yes, again)
Sanfo Dembelé

* You may have noticed that the new podcast too is dedicated to this instrument. In fact, there will be more balafon this week. If you like, you can even call it bala week at the Worldservice!


Anonymous said...

thanks Stefan
for these tunes from musically often underrated Burkina Faso. I find Aladari Dembelé 's interplay between the bala and his voice very interesting and enjoyable.

Dave said...

Great tape! Thanks.

Unknown said...

Fantastic tape Stefan,

When it comes to unearthing great musicians I never knew existed, this blog is second to none. Thanks.

CheikS said...

I have been trying to find information on Aladari Dembele for the longest.
I'm from Burkina faso too, and I just needed to tell you this: Keep up the good work.