Jun 14, 2010

Mamadou Barry - Niyo


During the sixties and seventies the Guinean orchestras, essential for Sekou Toure for the Authenticité project, were the most precious jewels on the African music scene. Keletigui Traore and his Tambourinis, Balla Onivogui and his Balladins, and – mostly - Bembeya Jazz became in the whole continent true icons of the new African culture, just when the majority of the African countries, having obtained independence, were busy reconstructing an identity proud of their roots.

In 1969 a group of young musicians who were around 20 years of age, set up in Conakry a new orchestra, the Kaloum Star. Within the group there was Mamadou Barry on the saxophone and Mamadou Camara on guitar.

Mamadou Barry was born in 1947 in Kindia, a city close to the border with Sierra Leone. He was from the Peul ethnic, he was named “maitre Barry”, because he had a diploma as teacher in school and he dedicated himself to music against his mothers' will. His father instead was also a musician and played the squeeze box and the drums in the pre-colonial orchestra: Le Pavilion Bleu from Kindia.

Running after his childish passion young Barry joined the Ballets de Conakry as percussionist. "Being a djembe player in a traditional ballet has strongly influenced my music. When I play the first thing I hear is the rhythm of percussions inside, and in my musical arrangements I always try to reserve a solo for the percussionists". Only later he learned to play the saxophone, taking lessons from the Caribbean teacher Honoré Coppet, living in Conarky, and being inspired by Momo Wandel Soumah. Barry considered Momo the most creative African musician.

While Balla, Keletigui and Bembeya had the responsibility over their shoulders to represent the identity and the cultural Guinean roots, the young musicians of the Kaloum Star were free to experiment. "We were young and we played young music, very cool, open to all sorts of influences, mainly to Cuban music. At that time Guinean music was the main light in the African music scene. All the stars today from Salif to Manu admit the predominance in this period of bands like Bembeya and Keletigui. Naturally I was influenced by them.”

Kaloum Star had a big success and they played not only in Guinea but also in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Mali. They played with stars like Doc Albert, Aicha Kone and Richard Egues, flutist of the Habanero sextet, from who Barry learned how to play the flute. "None the less our success remained the young band of Conakry. We would play every week at the train station buffet. When the eighties arrived the other orchestras broke up but we continued playing. Without denying our roots we opened up to jazz music, to blues, to jazz-rock convinced that we had to continue maintaining the spirits young."

Maybe for ethnic reasons - they were not Malinke, but Susu and Peul - as a matter of fact Kaloum Star recorded for Syliphone only three singles and some participation to some collections like the historical one Discotheque Series. Their first and only album was Felenko, recorded in France in 1997. Once Momo Wandel passed away and more recently Keletigue Traore, Mamadou Barry remains the living veteran on the Guinean saxophone. This year after almost 50 years of carrier, maitre Barry publishes Niyo, first album under his name.

Close to maitre Barry we find the guitar player Mamadou Camara, his eternal companion Djessu Mory Kante and Yaya Diallo on guitar, Papa Kouyate on percussions, Myriam Makeba and other aged Guinean musicians into an ensemble enriched with traditional sound of the balafon, the kora and the Peul flute.

Both the riffs and the solos of Mamadou Barry’s flute and saxophone are elegant and gentle, whether they play palm-wine melodies from the old times gone by or whether they fly into afro beat of Niyo or of Sedy or whether they accompany the ancient rhythms of the forest or whether they follow the footsteps of Momo Wandel like in the remake of Take Five of Brubeck played in four or in six. Five instrumental songs – “Musique sans parole” was the title of the great Syliphone album - and four sung, the pearls of the album. Four different voices, three great Guinean singers with an original voice; Seny Mallomou, Missia Sara and Sina Tolno, extraordinary soul singer who’s not even twenty and lastly the kora player Kelontan Cissokho, who plays and sings in the beautiful song Nené.

Niyo is open music, solar and brave but does not forget the sound of the historical orchestras. It is the ultimate confirmation that the artist during the Guinean musical golden period - like the most recent works of Momo Wandel or Sekou Bembeya - had absorbed the atmosphere of that extraordinary period; love and vitality which was difficult to find within the new generation's music, now deprived of hope. Niyo is a natural evolution of the Syliphone productions which documented music in constant movement. We suggest this as the tropical groove of Mamadou Barry is music that warms up the heart.


Mamadou Barry, the renowned Guinean saxophonist and former director of the Kaloum Star orchestra, is still going strong in his sixties. "Master" Barry recently went into a Conakry studio with the best local musicians to record his debut solo album, Niyo. This compelling mix of Afro-beat grooves and hypnotic Mandingo rhythms confirms that Guinea is still producing exceedingly good and original sounds.

Mamadou Barry belongs to a generation of musicians who grew up in a country where culture was wielded as a political instrument in post-independence days. Music played a significant role in forging national pride and the Guinean government financed the setting up of a national label, Syliphone, to record the growing band of national and federal orchestras. Interestingly enough, musicians were also financed by the state in those days, drawing regular salaries like other civil servants.

"Maître" Barry - so called because of his short career as a school teacher - began conducting Kaloum Star (a federal orchestra from Conakry) in 1969. The orchestra recorded a first LP in 1973 which was followed by a number of singles. Kaloum Star, who eventually released their official debut CD album in 1996, put themselves on the music map by modernising Mandingo folk sounds and opening traditional music up to jazz and Afro-beat.

Niyo taps into much the same vein, the sleeve notes proclaiming that Mamadou Barry's debut album is "to be filed under: Africa / cool grooves." Barry, considered by many as a worthy heir to Momo Wandel (a saxophonist whose vibrant swing style made a legendary impact on the Guinean music scene) also makes a point of bringing jazz home to Africa on his solo debut.

On the vibrant Africa Five, "Master" Barry puts his own definitive spin on Take Five (a classic jazz piece originally recorded by the American pianist Dave Brubeck and his quartet half a century ago now.) Then his sax slips into a different mode on Sumbouya, accompanying the raw, emotional vocals of the young Guinean songstress Sia Tolno. Two of Guinea's finest female voices - Sény Malomou and Missia Saran - step behind the microphone on Sodia and Bikè Magnin while the kora-player Kélontan Cissoko steps centre stage on the final track, Néné, to sing "Maître" Barry's praises griot-style. With its clever alternation of songs and instrumental tracks, Niyo strikes a thoroughly seductive balance.


A veteran of the vibrant Guinean cultural scene, Mamadou Barry shines on this self-production. He performs Afrobeat, jazz, soul and funk tinged with Latin melodies and the sounds of the African rhythmic repertoire. Trained in Cuba and then by North Koreans, he became leader of Kaloum Star, the state orchestra, and played with all the Guinean greats. His Afrobeat – hard to replicate convincingly outside of Nigeria – is driven by the nagging rhythm and bold saxophone blasts definitive of the style, and in ‘Tala’, a Soussou melody popular throughout Guinea, the saxophones swing elegantly. Finest of all is ‘Sumbouya’, sung by the young Sierra Leonean Sia Tolno whose voice drips from the swing rhythm like tropical rain, and which features a guitar solo that will quicken the heart.



1. Niyo
2. Sodia
3. Africa Five
4. Tala
5. Sumbouya
6. Sedy
7. Barry Swing
8. Bike Magnin
9. Nene

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