Leon Keita (Analog Africa Dance Edition No.16)

Analog Africa

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Available on 180g virgin wax with screen-printed jacket, limited to 2000

Midway through the Mandingue groove inferno that is “Dakan Sate, Korotoumi” I knew I had found a gem. Hypnotic guitar solos, heavy bass riffs, psychedelic organ lines, and funky horns … what more could you want?

That was in 2006. I was in Bobo Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso and one of its major centres of Mandingue culture. Here the sounds of nearby Mali and Guinea had fused with local styles, giving birth to a rich musical scene: bands such as Bembeya Jazz, Super Djata Band and other Mandingue giants were among the best-sellers of the region, and record dealers had once imported them in great quantities from distributors in Abidjan or Cotonou, the cities where most local artists had their LPs manufactured. Within a week, I was able to find most of Leon Keïta’s output … and listening to his tunes in this part of the world was as natural as breathing the mild Saharan air at dawn!

A fixture on the Malian music scene, Leon Keïta was born in Conakry on the Atlantic coast of Guinea in 1947. After completing his studies he found his way to the Malian capital where, in addition to founding the Piano Jazz Orchestra, he worked as a teacher, organiser of cultural festivals, and accountant for the National Tobacco and Match company. During this time he also wrote reports for the Malian President Modibo Keita, and at the end of meetings he would sometimes entertain the delegates with a song or two.

In 1970, Leon helped to found the legendary Rail-Band, which became a celebrated mainstay of Bamako’s nightlife and launched the international careers of Salif Keita, Mory Kanté and many others. Leon himself went on to join Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux alongside his close friend Manfila Kanté, with whom he toured throughout West Africa, before departing to work on his own compositions.

When Leon was ready to visit the recording studio he invited his friends from Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux to serve as his backing band; the collaboration yielded two records, both released in 1978 on the Papa Disco label. A year later Leon released “Rythmes et Mélodies du Mali”, co-written with his brother Germain and backed by the magnificent Orchestre Black Santiago; featuring infectious trumpet from band-leader Ignace de Souza, the LP was recorded in Benin at the Satel Studio in Cotonou.

Although Leon didn’t make many solo recordings, his songs continue to inspire the reverence of anyone fortunate enough to have heard them. In recent years the song “Dalaka” was rediscovered by Barranquilla’s sound system operator Carlos Estrada and became an unexpected hit on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Twelve years after the release of the critically-acclaimed Bambara Mystic Soul compilation, this new compilation takes another deep-dive into Mandingue culture with five rare sides recorded during Leon Keïta’s fabled late 70s sessions. The LP, pressed on 180g virgin vinyl and housed in a beautiful jacket screen-printed in Greece, is limited to 2000 copies worldwide.