Sory Kandia Kouyaté ‘La voix de la révolution’ 2CD (Sterns) 5/5

Guinean singer-songwriter Sory Kandia Kouyaté tragically died at the relatively early age of forty-four, but still managed to pack some glorious recordings into his career and is rightly venerated, not only in his native country, but throughout West Africa and beyond. This terrific and extremely cohesive selection neatly divides his career up into two parts for the neophyte with CD one devoted to the more immediately accessible and shorter in length larger ensemble recordings while the second CD focuses on the more extended and traditional pared down sides that Kouyaté laid down between 1970 and 1973. As with other newly independent nations, the quest for authenticity reached into the musical sphere and in Guinea artists such as Kouyaté were openly encouraged to flourish. Between the ages of eight and ten, Kandia had joined the royal court of Mamou where he quickly gained a reputation for possessing a stunning voice and by the age of nineteen the singer had developed a fully matured mezzo-soprano voice. It is precisely the very dynamism of this voice that comes across to such wonderful effect on these recordings and sets the singer apart from his other contemporaries. From the first CD, the gently lilting groove of ‘N’na’ with some gorgeous laid back saxophone playing is one of several highlights and in general the musical accompaniment, percussion especially, makes this a very special listening pleasure. Sterns are to be commended for selecting numerous songs from two key album volumes entitled ‘L’Epopée du Mandingué that date from 1973. The second CD in contrast requires repeated listens and in small doses to begin to fully digest the undiluted sound on offer, yet more seasoned listeners will appreciate the virtuosity displayed on numbers such as ‘Siiba’ while the heartrendering twelve and a half minute take on ‘Douga’ is a fine way to open the more intimate side to Kouyaté’s work. Equally of interest are the significantly shorter pieces that date from 1961 with ‘Toubaka’ and ‘Nina’ outstanding examples of the singer’s earliest songs. As ever with Sterns classic re-issues, the inner sleeve is both lavish and colourful with original photos of the artist and album covers from the period with, in addition, informative bi-lingual notes on Kouyaté’s glittering career.

Tim Stenhouse