Mory Kanté, Guinean music maestro (1950-2020)

Africa has lost one of its most inspiring talents – Mory Kanté, master of the kora and man in white

The celebrated Guinean music star Mory Kanté has passed away at the age of 70.

Members of his family confirmed to Agence France Presse news agency that Kanté had died at a hospital in Conakry on Friday.

The veteran vocalist was one of the first Africans after the era of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Fela Anikulapo Kuti to bring the continent’s music to a wider audience, his hit song Yéké Yéké making waves across the globe in the 1980s.

Travel restrictions

The musician had been suffering from untreated health problems and was on admission at the hospital.

Speaking to AFP, his son Balla said Kanté had travelled to France frequently to seek medical assistance. However, going abroad to see doctors became impossible as travel restrictions came into force in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“He suffered from chronic illnesses and often travelled to France for treatment but that was no longer possible with the coronavirus,” Balla Kanté said.

“We saw his condition deteriorate rapidly, but I was still surprised [he died] because he’d been through much worse times before.”

Tributes to a legend

Tributes and messages of condolence poured in from far and near in response to the singer’s death.

The tributes were led by Guinea’s President Alpha Condé, who described the late musician as exceptional. In a post on Twitter, Condé said Kanté had displayed a certain pride throughout his career.


“African culture is in mourning. My saddest condolences . . . Thank you, artist. An exceptional life’s run. Exemplar. A sense of pride,” the president wrote.

Youssou N’dour spoke of a feeling of great emptiness on hearing about the death of Kanté, whom he described as a “baobab of African culture”.

Kanté’s impact

Mory Kanté began his musical career as a teenager and quickly rose to become an iconic figure.

He first joined the legendary Orchestre Rail-Band de Bamako in 1971, performing alongside the saxophonist Tidiane Koné and the great Malian singer Salif Keïta.


His immense talents led him to become a singer in the band, and he replaced Keïta as lead vocalist when the latter parted with the group in 1973.

Born in a village near Kissidougou in southern Guinea in 1950, Kanté was of mixed Guinean and Malian origins and a descendant of griot families on both sides. His father, El Hadj Djéli Fodé Kanté, was a griot of repute and his mother, Fatouma Kamissoko, a noted singer. Kanté was one of 38 children born to El Hadj Djéli Fodé, already an old man by that time.

At the age of seven, Kanté was sent by his parents to live with an aunt in Mali, another griote, and learn to play the kora, the harp that gives so much music from Sahelian Africa its distinctive tone. He also mastered the balafon, returning to Guinea at the age of 15 a rounded musician.

On leaving the Rail-Band de Bamako, he relocated to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in 1978, where he collaborated with his half-brother Djéli Moussa Diawara, also a singer and composer. Then in the 1980s he moved to France, where his musical experiments with rock, funk, zouk and djéli composition earned him the nickname “Electronic Griot”.

Kanté’s music is well known across Africa and his deep knowledge of the kora endeared him to many.

He travelled the world, touring France and other European countries, and collaborating with Youssou N’dour, Carlos Santana and a host of other musical giants.

Yéké Yéké, which was released in 1987, was one of his biggest hits and made him one of Africa’s best-selling artists of all time. Akwaba Beach, the album on which the song featured, became the best-selling African record of all time and won the 1988 Victoires de la Musique prize for best non-French francophone album.

Another hit from the same album was Tama (1988).


His last studio album, N’Diarabi, was released in 2017.

Yéké Yéké inspired cover versions and remixes by other artists worldwide. Check out this dancefloor version from Lovefest in Serbia in 2015:

E A Alanore

* Asaase Radio 99.5 FM. Coming to a dial near you.

* Twitter: @asaaseradio995

Radio France Internationale
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected