Radio Africa

Baba Soumano: Mano whisky soda
Graeme Counsel © Copyright

“Mano whisky soda” by Baba Soumano, circa 1954.

Here is the original version of “Whisky soda”, made famous by Bembeya Jazz National.

Baba Soumano recorded over 50 songs on 78 rpm discs in the 1950s, mostly for the Opika label. His repertoire included griot songs such as “Soundiata”, “Nanfoulé” and “Toubaka”, and he also performed material that reflected contemporary West African life such as “Kaïra” and “Diaraby”. On “Mano whisky soda” he is supported by his troupe, the Ensemble Soudanais Kita, which references the important musical town of Kita, about 200km west of Bamako in the heart of the former Empire of Mali. Kita is an ancestral home for the Diabaté clan of griots and the birthplace of Keletigui Diabaté and Mamadou Diabaté as well as Djelymady Tounkara, Fanta Sacko, Kandia Kouyaté and the playwright Massa Makan Diabaté.

Soumano’s version of “Mano whisky soda” features two acoustic guitars and percussion provided by maracas and a small trap drum kit. It’s a dance song, made lively through its 6/8 rhythm and by Soumano’s vocals. On many of his recordings, Soumano introduces the song title and musicians before launching into the song, however in “Mano whisky soda” he only exclaims the word “Opika!”, at 0’ 05”, which is a humorous nod to the recording label and perhaps provides context for the song. Also, at 0’ 55”, we hear Soumano call out “Opa!”, a Greek exclamatory word which expresses enthusiasm for the song in progress and which is often heard in styles such as rembetika. A definite nod here to the founders of the Opika label, the Greek brothers Gabriel Moussa Benetar and Joseph Benetar, who were very likely present and recording the song.

In the mid 1960s, the Ivoirien sax player Fax Clarke and his orchestra les Rythmes du Cosmos released a cover version of “Mano whisky soda” on the Safie Deen label through Philips West Africa. At around the same time, Joseph Kabasele’s group "African Team" also released a version. It is unclear which of these songs (perhaps both) inspired Bembeya Jazz National to release their version for Syliphone in 1973, as the B side of the single “Mami wata”. Though Guinea’s cultural policy of authenticité strongly encouraged groups to perform Guinean music, particularly following the Cultural Revolution of 1968, occasionally covers from Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere snuck through (as with Camayenne Sofa’s version of “Zadie bobo” by Ernesto Djedje  and “Ancien combattant” (originally “Petit n'imprudent”) by Idrissa Soumaoro which was covered by Balla et ses Balladins on Syliphone SYL 571.

“Whisky soda” became a huge international hit for Bembeya Jazz National and was a feature of their concerts for many years.

Enjoy Baba Soumano et son Ensemble Soudanais Kita performing "Mano whisky soda" by clicking on the image below.

Baba Soumano
"Mano whisky soda".