Guitarist and singer Alpha Yaya Diallo, from Guinea in West Africa, is one of the hottest acts on the world music scene. Now based in Canada, he’s earned a matchless reputation for the excellence of his musicianship and the excitement of his live shows – whether performing solo or with his band Bafing. Diallo is a multi-talented artist. His dexterous acoustic and electric guitar-playing, with its fluid melodic lines and compelling grooves, places him in the front ranks of African axemen. In addition, he’s a skilled and experienced performer on a variety of percussion instruments, and on the balafon (traditional marimba). To cap it off, Diallo writes all his own compositions and sings with a supple, high, and beautifully modulated voice.
By successfully uniting the traditional and the contemporary in African music, Diallo has carved out a niche beside such luminaries as Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, and Mory Kante.
But, if anything, the blend of musical elements in Diallo’s work is even richer and more diverse, a heritage from childhood – his father worked as a doctor-surgeon, frequently on the move with his family. Growing up in different regions of Guinea, Diallo was exposed to a range of cultures, absorbing musical traditions from the Malenke, Sousou, and his own Foulani people. In addition he spent time in neighbouring Senegal, where his mother has relatives, and picked up the powerful mbalax rhythm there, along with influences from Cape Verde and the Caribbean..
A self-taught musician, Diallo possesses a fine ear and quickly worked out how to transpose for his guitar the melodic and rhythmic patterns he heard on Guinean instruments. While at school and university he was already in high demand as a musician, performing with bands The Sons of Ra’is and Syli Authentique.
Eventually Diallo had the opportunity to move to Europe, and joined Fatala – a group of African musicians recording for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label.
Fatala travelled widely and performed throughout Western Europe, including sets at the prestigious WOMAD Festival in England and Festival d’Angoulème in France. After Fatala’s 1991 North American tour Diallo stayed and settled in British Columbia.
Since then he has recorded eight highly-acclaimed albums under his name, as well as three collaborative albums.
Both his debut Nene  – on which Diallo plays all the instruments – and Futur  were nominated for JUNO Awards – the Canadian music industry’s highest accolade. In addition, Futur bagged the Music Africa Award for National Recording of the Year. Diallo’s The Message  distributed Internationally by BMG, took the coveted JUNO in 1999 for Best Global Recording. The Journey  took another for Best Global Recording, and Best World Independent. Over time he’s earned more Canadian awards than he can count.
In recent years Diallo has criss-crossed North America many times, garnering praise at major concert venues and at an ever-increasing number of world music, jazz, folk, and other festivals. He’s shared the stage with the likes of David Lindley, Thomas Mapfumo, and reggae stars Jimmy Cliff, Third World, and Burning Spear.
Diallo is recognized as one of the leading musicians in any genre in Canada, and was a member of the hugely successful African Guitar Summit concert held in Toronto. The resulting CD gained another JUNO.
A documentary about Diallo and his music, The Best of Both Worlds, was filmed during a trip to Guinea and back home in Canada, where it was broadcast by both the English and French CBC. He’s also written and performed music for several major films:
– Rendition , an American political thriller starring Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep
– District 9 , a South African science-fiction action movie directed by Neill Blomkamp
– The Ivory Game , a documentary that examines the illegal ivory trade
– Cirque du Soleil World , a documentary produced by Blomkamp
With Doy doy, his latest release, Diallo takes his art to new heights. The title means a state of wariness: “We need to pay more attention today to how we live our lives in the face of many challenges, to show responsibility, and to act with care.” Produced by legendary Malian multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Fofani, who plays ngoni and kora, Doy doy features top-notch African musicians Adama Bilaro Dembele on percussion, Naby Camara on balafon, Etienne Mongala on bass, Knowledge Majoni on drums, and Madagascar Slim on guitar. As usual Diallo sings and plays both acoustic and electric guitars. Janelle Reid sings on two tracks, and NDidi Cascade raps on two more.
Always seeking new territories to explore while at the same time respecting his roots, Alpha Yaya Diallo is one of the most inspired and inspirational world music artists performing anywhere.