Guinean Music Legend Mory Kanté Dies Aged 70

Mory Kante in 2017.

Guinea's President Alpha Condé led the tributes on Friday to the Guinean musician Mory Kanté who has died at the age of 70. The vocalist and kora harp player's death was announced by two members of his family, according to the ActuJeune Guinean news website.

Kanté had an exceptional career and displayed a certain pride, Condé said on Twitter.

#Mory_Kanté La culture africaine est en deuil. Mes condoléances les plus attristées... Merci l'artiste. Un parcours exceptionnel. Exemplaire. Une fierté. - Alpha CONDÉ (@alphacondepresi) May 22, 2020

Born on 24 February, 1950, in the village of Albadaria, near Kissidougou, in the south of Guinea, Kanté was part of a celebrated family of griots, west African historians, storytellers, musicians or poets.

At the age seven he was sent to live in Bamako, Mali, with his aunt, another well-known griote, where he developed his skills as a singer and musician.

Melting pot

The Malian music scene of tthe 1960s was a veritable melting pot of influences - Congolese rumba, Cuban salsa and Anglo-saxon rock.

Kanté started his career just out of his teens. He joined his first band, the Rail Band of Bamako, in 1971 and performed alongside saxophonist Tidiane Koné and the Malian singer, Salif Keita. Kanté later replaced Keita as singer when he left the group.

The Guinean musician travelled throughout west Africa, gaining notoriety, learning the kora harp and then moving to Cote d'Ivoire's capital, Abidjan, in 1978.

The kora became the centre of his work and in Abidjan he had the opportunity to work with numerous musicians. He mixed the traditional sound of the kora with other influences, creating his own style.

He recorded his first record in Los Angeles in 1981 entitled Courougnegne, helping him extend his influence across the African continent.

European travel

Kanté later moved to Europe, travelling to France in 1984 with the aim of furthering his musical experience. He quickly became an established member of the world music scene collaborating with other well known African artists such as Youssou N'Dour.

His big hit, Yéké Yéké, was released in 1987 and first gained traction in the Netherlands before eventually becoming an international success the following year. It was a song long in the making. It was composed at the start of the 1980s and featured on 1984's Mory Kanté à Paris album.

Kanté became one of the best-selling African artists of all time. Yéké Yéké was remixed, sampled and covered across the world, taking top spot on the pan-European charts compiled by Billboard.

His eleventh album, La Guinéenne, is described by his website as "a love song to Africa and Guinea".

It says his music is "a treasure chest of hard-nosed advice about trust, hard work, gratitude, and the importance of maintaining traditions in the face of modernity."

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