December 2007

Alpha Yaya Diallo
presented by Karibuni Radio and Small World Music
December 9, 2007 Lula Lounge Toronto
Djama For The People
Report and photos by Lee Haas
In a seemingly fully packed house, on Sunday, December 9th, 2007, Lula Lounge saw Alpha Yaya Diallo and his band play two sets that were spirited, energetic, and lively. While for the first set many were sitting (still eating perhaps?) the appreciation was evident — and loud. Especially so from the few dancing on the floor…

The stage saw Sadjo Cissoko playing djembe (as he told me he has been since he was a toddler), Thomas Niamke on drum set, Naby Camara on balafon (the traditional indigenous wooden xylophone), Pele Emmanuel on bass, Hassa Natou Camara and Kadi Zo on backup vocals and outstanding dance. And of course, Alpha Yaya Diallo as group leader, main singer and spiritually uplifting guitar.

Diallo is originally from Guinea. After one of his band's North American tours in 1991, he decided to stay, and settled on our west coast, in Vancouver. He is a renowned guitarist and singer, having been nominated for six Juno awards — and having won three of those! — and is also a composer who incorporates his rich Guinean traditions into his original music. With his West African heritage, already so diverse, and his exposure to various Guinean and Senegalese cultures, this show successfully aspired to music of mixed styles that was touching and powerful at the same time. Diallo's voice has a quality that does not conflict with his songs in their divinity, diversity, and dance-ability. Diallo has been developing his own inspired sound, both acoustic and occasionally electric since he was only 12 years old. This pleased the people at the show, who were enamoured with not only the guitar, but also the drumming and dancing — and the whole soul.

Diallo had a glint in his eyes that was sparkling more as it was getting hotter in the club. This was surely helped by his tremendous playing, the smoking djembe and balafon solos, and dancers too. The dancers were not only gorgeous, but their smiles were as animated as their 'traditional with a twist' dance moves. The spirits of the crowd were uplifted by the intention of these two women. The djembe was sharp and punctuated the connections we all felt. While this percussionist was barely striking the skin, his hits were astounding in their expression. And the enthusiasm from the balafon player was contagious.

Diallo's intricate and proficient playing is beautiful and demonstrates how adept his skill is with his guitar. Some of the songs the group played were solely instrumental, which showed his confidence in execution of his specific mastery. He is not only multilingual, but also multitalented. Watching Diallo playing two small set-up djembes with sticks, all whilst still wearing his guitar, was a surprise. His percussive additions showed his ability to radiate acoustic rhythms whatever he is playing.

While the crowd thinned slightly after their dinners, the room was still fully cooking with the mix of dancers on the floor and with the strumming of Diallo's guitar. The spirit flows through and along his strings with such a powerful force that one can't help but be moved — and eventually most of the people were up and doing just that.

Alpha Yaya Diallo

Sadjo Cissoko
The first set went for 90 minutes, yet it seemed like not much time had passed at all. In fact, I think it even started right on schedule. It was just such a thrill to see him in person and to hear the voice I know so well. And we were quite blessed to have been able to be close to him in this intimate venue. Diallo actually told me he hasn't played in such a venue for some time; he is usually in large theatres, and has been for many years. Though he likes Toronto, he hasn't been here for a while, but he said he will be back. He likes our Canada very much, more than almost any other country (ahem). There is nothing like Canada, he espouses, and we have to continue to make African music work in Canada, making that listening population bigger than it is.

He was gracious in signing all the CDs that were brought to him, and there was great debate over which one people in the crowd preferred more. Generally, they liked them all, of course, but we were happy to hear a nice selection in this show from Djama (The People), which is his most recent offering. And he was appreciative that there were not only many members of the African Diaspora, but a very varied crowd.

Commencing the second set, anticipation was in the air while we wondered if, according to the rumours, any of Diallo's all-star African Guitar Summit compatriots would grace us with their presence onstage after all. And we were not disappointed when Donné Roberts came up with his guitar during this second set of the evening. The two of them together have a grace and connection that was quite touching in its most harmonic of melodies.

Donné Roberts, who is now Toronto based, grew up partly in Russia and France, after having been born in Madagascar, and it seems to have influenced his musical styling in a creatively convergent fashion, especially in his rootsy Malagasy playing (which works well in combination with the rest of the African Guitar Summit, just so you know). It was nice to have a little taste of this. In the category of world music, these guys radiate vibrancy and a connection that flows from their assured admiration of each other. The warmth emanating from their collaboration on this Lula stage literally allowed for a stunning interplay of musical fluidity.

Donné Roberts

Also seen dancing in the crowd, and encouraged to come up onstage a few times, was Katenen 'CHEKA' Dioubate. She has been based in Toronto for some time now and is originally also from Guinea. Her destiny and tribal responsibility lies in being a griot (storyteller) and she was born to sing. We reveled in her additions to the evening, clear evidence that her path requires sharing her voice.

Diallo asked to make sure we were having fun during this last hour, to which the reply was a resounding YES, before the intros for each of the band members. This end was part of a very long groove that managed to not feel like a bunch of intros thrown together just to offer an opportunity to solo. Well done indeed! This second set was dazzling and joyous and we were then granted one encore number.

Oh! We exclaimed when walking outside and were hit with tiny little bites of hail coming down. This was a sharp reminder that we need to carry with us a little longer the talent of this man and his band and their good vibe and the connections made through the music and the rhythm.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Lee Haas
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