Aug 19, 2009

Moussa Doumbia - Keleya


Moussa Doumbia was a saxophonist, arranger, author/composer who used African American funk as his main inspiration during the 1970's. Living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa, the Malian artist recorded an audacious music for a restricted public, with the help of two French American producers based there, Cathy & Albert Loudes.

Moussa Doumbia probably arrived in Abidjan circa 1974. He played live music at his residency in a fancy nightclub owned by a French man, the Boule Noire, in a trading cosmopolitan neighbourhood called Treichville. Armchairs, imported drinks & spotlights were fair enough to turn the Boule Noire into a central spot for the dancefloor funk amateurs. Office & business employees would get to Teichville at the end of the day to have a beer in one of the numerous maquis (cheaper, local food, usually open air, restaurants) or a lebanese chawarma. They would melt with the heterogeneous population there, mostly West African & Lebanese businessmen & their employees. But only the richest of them would afford the Boule Noire during the whole week, while most of them would wait until Saturday night to go to the local ball. Treichville also was an important crossroads for the local music industry and concentrated most of the important producers & record retailers. Lido Musique, Sacodis, Saffiedine, the pioneers were there when records were a more affordable leisure than others to the poorer ones.

Moussa Doumbia lived by the scene & had a place in Treichville , not far from the club. He would play there every night for the locals, mostly Dioula people from Northern Ivory Coast & Southern Mali, for which he would sing in his native language, the Dioula. Described as an enthusiast, cheerfull person by the people who met him, he was a rigorous professional who wouldn't drink or smoke and could play for hours without a break for his own pleasure. He would hold the microphone, shout, rap & sing, blow his sax, hit a drum&all night long. As original as Nigerian musican Fela Kuti, Moussa Doumbia played a music hardly heard in that part of Africa. Bete, Baoule, Dioula, Mossi peoples who came from all Ivory Coast & the neighbouring countries (Guinea, Mali & Burkina Faso mostly) to Abidjan didn't really enjoy Fela s afrobeat. James Brown would stand as a major artist in record stores and on the radio, but local artists wouldn't play this funk music home. The public usually prefered, when it came to imported music, the Afro Cuban style from New York, Puerto Rico or Cuba. He loved French pop singers like Johnny Halliday, Sylvie Vartan or Mireille Mathieu. Or played international instrumental easy listening by Ray Conniff's or Paul Mauriat's orchestras. But Moussa Doumbia was lucky enough to settle in Abidjan at the same time as the first French speaking West African record company, the Société Ivoirienne du Disque (SID). Even at a small scale, the SID built a recording studio, imported a record press & developped a national distribution network, giving more independance to the local record industry. Both SID owners and their main arranger/co-artistic director, African American sax player Greg Skelton, with their American background, were exactly the people Moussa Doumbia needed to record his music there.

The SID recordings were not the best though. On such tunes as « Femme Sénégal » or the long version of « Keleya », the semi-professional sound engineers working at SID and Moussa Doumbia's arranger skills show real limits. During that specific recording session, Doumbia was backed by a ten pieces band when he usually played with a funk quintet. Even though guitar player Francis Kingsley or organist Cheikh Muhammad « Smith » were excellent musicians, we can clearly hear they didn't rehearse enough, nor did the sound engineers manage to obtain a clear sound on their two tracks table. The sound was hard, agressive, and sold pretty bad at that time, despite the producers hopes and attempts to export the music to Western Countries. It was not until the late 90's that Moussa Doumbia's raw & nasty afro funk rocked London, Paris & New York's dancefloors.

Moussa Doumbia's original synthesis of funk & African rhythms is comparable to Fela Kuti's, Poly Rythmo's or Ebo Taylor's. It reflects what was yesterday's urban culture of a small part of Abidjan's population. Doumbia used to sing mostly in Dioula. His every day life was very African : he would share a small hut with his wife not far from the club where he played. On one hand, he was a cosmopolitan, who had lived in Paris for several years, was fascinated by African American music, and could sing in both French and English. And even when he played his funk over Dioula or Mandingue rhythmic patterns, his sound would still be quite far from Mali's Rail Band or Guinea's Super Boiro afro mandingue pop. His saxophone was always funky, dirty, raw & syncopated. But on the other hand he would choose Dioula to express himself most of the time. An unheard music he would play, giving up sometimes on funk breaks for more hybrid compositions that melted African rhythmic elements to funk or afrobeat arrangements. « Samba » & « Nambara » played on afrobeat/afrofunk tempo, were taken from the Guinean folklore tune made famous by South African singer Myriam Makeba. Most of all, his inspiring themes were African answers to universal questions : relationships between men and women as in « Keleya », greed as in « Wanri », religion with « Faux Marabout ». Even if he could sing in French or in English as in « Black & white », or use funk as a musical background, his lyrics could only be understood by a small scale public who lived the way described in his songs.

Moussa Doumbia came back to France circa 1980 and worked there as a record seller at Richard Dick's « Salsa Musique » store. He went back to Mali a while later, where he is known as « James », probably a reference to James Brown, and died there.

The music industry & the media never really gave a chance to Moussa Doumbia. His discography was as hard to get as was his story to tell. But his work definitely deserves full aknowledgment and respect, not just because he was an original powerful saxophonist, but also because he never gave up on expressing himself the way he wanted, melting cultures together in an original modern way.



So it’s mid to late 70’s Afro funk from the Ivory Coast, the kind of exotic brew that crate diggers go crazy for. There are strong links to James Brown in some of the vocal exclamations, Doumbia’s rapping, spitting, wailing and spoken word over repetitive ultra funky bass grooves and his Afro rhythms and the occasional stabs of sax. I’d hesitate to suggest this is Afro beat per se because it’s very different from Fela Kuti’s approach, though it does share the hypnotic sense of repetition. Moussa Doumbia was born in Mali and moved to Abidjan Ivory coast in 1974. He was known as primarily as a saxophonist and composer arranger and the music he created during the seventies drew heavily on American funk music at the time. For a couple of pieces he is even backed by a ten piece band, a rough, ready lumbering funk that has to be heard to be believed, its raw haphazard nature and aged production quality only adding to its mystique and charm, such as on the 10 minute plus opus title track Keleya. The same track occurs earlier, this time a five minute version with his usual quintet, a much tighter, punchier ensemble. But this is music that worships the groove, the kind of raw mid 70’s funk that unites American grooves and African beats and melodies in one intoxicating exotic brew.


Malian funk indeed -- and just the sort of African sounds we really go crazy for! The grooves here are totally wonderful -- a skittish brew of percussion, guitar, and keyboards -- sometimes in straighter Afro Funk modes, sometimes with the other-worldly styles we might associate with Mulatu in the 70s! Vocals can be quite frenetic -- often shouted by backup singers along with the lead -- with a sense of urgency that only drives the grooves onward even farther. The tracks all definitely live up to the "funk" promise of the title -- and have a really universal appeal to fans of all things funky -- even if you don't know anything about the culture, the language, or the 70s origin of these sides. The album's a tremendous discovery in sound -- fresher than Fela, and finally getting its due with a wider global audience. Titles include "Yeye Mousso", "Wanri", "Samba", "Faux Marabout", "Djoliba", and "Mokholou".



01. Femme D'aujourd'hui
02. Samba
03. Mokholou
04. Djoliba
05. Wanri
06. Black & White
07. Yeye Mousso
08. Faux Marabout
09. Nambara
10. Keleya
11. Femme Senegal


  1. Hello! My Grandfather, the late sax player Gregory Skelton. I inherited his love for the art of music. Im drastically trying to find any recordings with him playing. Please help.

  2. Most people do not know about the very influential time Moussa spent in Dakar, where he played with Khad Orchestra of the Diagne brothers(Massaer was one of them). That was 1970 to at least 1972. He was known as James(close to his Malian name Djemoussa) and he would sing covers of James Brown exclusively.