Monday, October 11, 2010

Mahama Konaté, Master Balafonist and Founder of FARAFINA, Passes Away

Sad news out of Burkina Faso: Mahama Konaté, talented musician, composer and master balafonist has passed away. Apparently, Konaté has been sick for awhile but the news still comes as a shocking blow to the African music community.

In 1977, the talented musician and composer, Mahama Konaté, founded the FARAFINA ensemble. This was more than just founding a group since he decided to abandon the electric guitars and drums to return to the instrumental origins of his musical roots. From then on, balafon, djembé, bara, doumdoun and kora became the instruments with which he gave free rein to his musical compositions. This was not folklore, but a resolutely contemporary step, in keeping with his time as much in his texts as in his orchestrations.

He was in his own way a precursor of the awareness of the real values of Africa, which also inspired the action of others, in particular Thomas Sankara and his revolution in 1983 through which he became President of Burkina-Faso from 1983 to 1987.

Since then, in Europe, North America and Japan, FARAFINA has been setting stages around the world ablaze. Nevertheless, the group’s recorded and mainly instrumental music is not well known. Their first albums, recorded in 1983 and later in 1985 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, are now collectors’ items. Over the years, Mahama Konaté made a considerable contribution through his musical approach, working also with other musicians, in particular with Jon Hassell, and was regularly invited by Womad to its festivals in Europe, the United States and Canada. An improbable meeting also led to a unique album named Flash of the Spirit and his path even crossed that of the Rolling Stones when Farafina was invited in 1989 to participate in the recording of Continental Drift on their Steel Wheels album.
Konaté will be sorely missed throughout Burkina Faso and the world music community.

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