A predominately rural, French-speaking and Muslim West African country, Guinea thrives on the strength of its musical traditions. Groove to the kora (a stringed lute-harp) and explore these five essential artists.
This kora maestro and good-natured singer has been inspiring Guineans for generations. His marimba-infused hits such as “Le Guinéenne” have delighted all sorts of admirers—his works have even been adapted and remixed by DJs to much fanfare. Additionally, Kanté has shared his goodwill as a United Nations ambassador, on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Every inflection of this singer-songwriter’s voice contains magic. Like a Guinean Joni Mitchell or Joanna Newsom, Diabate breathes truth into each note. Her genre is all her own—acoustic folk meets classical meets spiritual. Her latest album was a rerelease of 1988’s Kankele-ti (Bolibana), a gorgeous collection that deserves a meditative listen. (Thank you to RTG Conakry for the recommendation.)
Fighting against militaristic rule and fighting for universal education for girls, this hip-hop rebel is among Guinea’s fiercest. Her 2014 record, Nimba (Tenacule), honored the goddess of fertility, giving birth to a menacing masterpiece of rhyme and reason. She moonlights as an actor and as a proud mother.
Mohamed James Azaya knows his way around a love song. His “Gnensouma,” among others, drips with sexiness and devotion. Think a less egotistical Jason Derulo. The Auto-Tune elevates his already melismatic tenor, bringing an alluring robotic element to R&B. His double-album, Difangniya,” chock full of new tunes and music videos, was released in April 2017.
Sharing a surname with our first recommendation, this globe-trekker meshes fluid soprano vocals with modern social issues. She resides in Spain, but her art is 100 percent Guinean, from the unstoppable percussion to her words begging her people to rescue homeless children. From afar and around the world, Kanté is making a difference musically and intellectually. Her latest album, Naka (Slow Walk Music), came out in 2016 and was self-produced.
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