Guitarist and singer Alpha Yaya Diallo, from Guinea in West Africa, is one of the hottest acts on the current world music scene. Now based in Vancouver, Canada, he’s earned a matchless reputation internationally for the excellence of his musicianship and the excitement of his live shows – whether performing solo or with his band Bafing.
Diallo is a uniquely 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 is a skilled and experienced performer on a variety of percussion instruments, and on the balafon (traditional wooden xylphone). To complete the abundance of riches Diallo writes his own compositions, and sings with a supple and beautifully modulated voice.
By successfully uniting the traditional and the contemporary, Diallo has carved a niche for himself beside such West African luminaries as Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, and Ismael Lo.
But, if anything, the blend of musical elements to be found in Diallo’s work is even richer and more diverse, a heritage from his childhood years. His father worked as a doctor-surgeon, frequently on the move with his family. Growing up in a number of regions of Guinea, Diallo was accordingly exposed to a variety of cultures, and absorbed 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 popular and powerful mbalax rhythm there – as well as influences from Cape Verde and the Caribbean.
A self-taught musician, Diallo possesses a fine ear and quickly learned how to transpose for his guitar the melodic and rhythmic patterns he heard played on indigenous Guinean instruments. He was already in great demand as a musician while at school and university, performing with such bands as The Sons of Ra’is, and Syli Authentique.
Eventually Diallo found the opportunity to move to Europe, and became a member of Fatala – a group of West African musicians recording for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label.
Fatala travelled widely, appearing at many festivals throughout Western Europe, including the prestigious WOMAD Festival outside London, and the Festival d’Angoulèm in France. After the band’s North American tour in 1991 Diallo decided to stay, and settled on the West Coast.
Since then he has recorded five highly-acclaimed albums of his own compositions.
Both the acoustic Nene on which Diallo played all the instruments, and the electric Futur were nominated for JUNO Awards- the highest accolade of the Canadian music industry. In addition Futur obtained the Music Africa Award for National Recording of the Year, and the Pacific Music Industry Award for Best World Music Album. Internationally distributed by BMG, Diallo’s The Message won the coveted JUNO in 1999 for Best Global Recording. In 2002, The Journey also won the JUNO Award for Best Global Recording, as well as The Best World Independent.
In recent years Diallo has criss-crossed Canada and the United States, garnering rave reviews wherever he goes for his masterful performances. He’s been invited to an ever-increasing number of world music, jazz, folk, and other festivals — sharing the stage with the likes of David Lindley, Thomas Mapfumo and reggae stars Jimmy Cliff, Third World and Burning Spear.
A documentary film about Diallo and his music was shot during a trip to Guinea, and back in Canada. Entitled The Best of Both Worlds, it was first broadcast early in 2001 on the Bravo channel, and on both the English and French CBC television.
Diallo is increasingly recognized as one of Canada’s leading music performers in any genre. In the summer of 2003 he played a series of high-profile European festivals as part of the Canada Council-sponsored Sonic Wave tour. And in February 2004 he was a member of the hugely successful African Guitar Summit concert at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto – with Pa Joe, Mighty Popo, Madagascar Slim, Adam Solomon, and Donné Robert. The African Guitar Summit CD has just been nominated for a JUNO.
His latest album Djama, which means ‘The People’ in Fulah, Diallo has taken his art to new heights with the intricacy and precision of his guitar-playing and his soulful singing. The recording features several superb duets with fellow guitarist Karamoko Kouyaté from Mali’s legendary Rail Band.
Diallo’s musical inheritance is something he always wants to nurture and to build upon. He never strays far from these roots, while at the same time ensuring that his performances and his albums make use of the very latest advances in music technology.
Alpha Yaya Diallo is one of the most inspired and inspirational artists on the World Beat circuit today.