A Composer for Every Country: Guinea

Guinea stands separate from Guinea-Bissau because Guinea was colonized by the French, while Guinea-Bissau was colonized by the Portuguese. Something I learned from reading about Guinea which hadn't popped up yet is the collapse of the French Fourth Republic in 1958. The founding of the 5th Republic saw Charles de Gaulle (of World War II fame) basically told the West African colonies: stay with us, or else. Guinea, under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré, voted for independence by referendum and found out the "or else" part of the ultimatum. 

 
The French settlers pulled out of Guinea in a two month time frame, displaying just about the ultimate in human pettiness in the process. As The Washington Post reports, French "unscrewed lightbulbs, removed plans for sewage pipelines in Conakry, and even burned medicines."
 
Politics within Guinea after that became... complicated. Touré aligned the country with the Soviet Union, which, you know, makes a certain statement in the 20th century, and advocated a combination of socialism and Pan-Africanism. As you might surmise, this led to a certain degree of conflict considering the country was surrounded by countries still occupied by European powers. Not least was Guinea-Bissau, through which Portugal launched a kind of proxy war in an attempt to remove Touré from power. The Portuguese ultimately retreated after freeing a number of political prisoners. Before you go feeling bad for Touré, though, know that he followed that conflict with a huge purge, killing almost 50,000 Guineans and arresting and torturing many others.
 
At the bigger picture, there are three main ethnicities which hold the most political power now: the Mandinka, the Fula, and Soussou. There are quite a number of smaller ethnic groups which tend not to be well represented in the government. Though French is the official language, some 24 languages are spoken across the country. Religiously, the people are mostly Muslim, with a minority of Christians and indigenous traditional religions making up the rest.
 
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The composer I have picked for today is Mory Kanté (1950-2020). He was kind of a big deal, and I'm not just being facetious. I mean, I am a little, but seriously, his album, Akwaba Beach (1987), was the best selling African record of its time. Please do take a moment to remember Africa is a continent, not a country, to get a sense of how big that album was. One song in particular, "Yé ké yé ké," also became a number 1 hit song in Europe. It was the first African single to sell over a million copies in Europe.
 
Mr. Kanté was born into a Mandinka griot family. His father, El Hadj Djeli Fodé Kanté, and his mother, Fatouma Kamissoko, were among the most famous griot families of the early 20th century. Mr. Kanté also learned kora, balafon (relative of the marimba), and griot singing in Mali. In addition to being influenced by Islamic music, he became known as "The Electric Griot" for incorporating electric instruments and various pop and electronic dance styles into his traditional song writing.
 
Every country I read about, I find something surprising about how connected the world is. In this case, Mory Kanté's songs were the inspiration for at least two Indian Bollywood songs: "Tamma Tamma" and "Jumma Chumma."
 
Mory Kanté died of complications from various chronic health issues. Unfortunately, it was lack of medical care that did him in. He had been receiving treatment in France, but the outbreak of COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals and he could no longer get adequate treatment for his illnesses. It is a story I am sure we will learn is all too common in 2020.