Bembeya Jazz National

Decades: 1970s 1980s 2000s


This group was formed in Beyla, Guinea, in 1961, under the patronage of President Sekou Toure, who was keen to foster indigenous musical expression, then under threat from the wholesale importation of western rock and soul. Bembeya Jazz arguably made the biggest contribution to the thriving state of local, traditionally based dance music in Guinea, establishing themselves as one of the most popular and respected bands in West Africa, seemingly unaffected by passing trends and growing Western influence.

In 1966, the group was appointed Guinea’s national band - a position not entirely unconnected to their penchant for such lyrics as ‘Ahmed Sekou Toure, you are honest, you are good, you are the person Guinea needs.’ However, the honour was nonetheless wholly deserved: Bembeya presented dance music steeped in authentic Guinean folk culture, and employed a line-up that placed traditional instruments such as the kora (harp), balafon...

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