Radio Africa

Bembeya Jazz National: "Pont l'amitie"
Graeme Counsel  © Copyright

Two rare and unreleased Bembeya Jazz National songs featuring Demba Camara!

Guinea’s 1st republic, led by President Sékou Touré, created many state ventures such as Syliphone (music), Syli-Cinema (film) and Syli-Photo (photography) which oversaw the development of local arts and culture. The elephant (or “syli”, in the local Susoxi language) was the emblem of Guinea’s sole political party of the era, the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG), who ruled Guinea from independence in 1958 until Touré’s death in 1984. The “Syli” became so enmeshed and pervasive in public life during this era that the nation’s currency was the Syli, the public smoked Syli cigs, which they lit with Syli matches.

  • Syliphone is the most well-known of these state-run cultural entities, but less so Syli-Cinema which, under the direction of the PDG, produced dozens of documentaries and films from the early 1960s onwards. Many are now lost, destroyed when the Radio Télévision Guinée buildings were bombed in 1985 or during the post-Touré purges.

    “Hafia” is a Syli-Cinema documentary from 1978 which features Guinea’s national football team, Hafia, the “triple champions” of the Africa Cup. Directed by Moussa Diakité Kémoko, the documentary features unique footage and a soundtrack which contains a snippet of “Pont l’amitie”, an unreleased Bembeya Jazz National song featuring Demba Camara on vocals.

    I have annotated the Hafia documentary, below, to include timings and performers:

  • - The “Hafia” documentary celebrated Guinea’s third African Cup title and commences with highlights from their 1977 match including a stunning goal for Guinea at 5’49”. President Sékou Touré delivers a speech after the match.
  •      - The match celebrations and music begin at 27’27” when a cavalcade of musicians, dancers, acrobats and motorcycle-police-stuntmen put on a show at the stadium.
  •      - At 27’27” we also hear Diely Fodé Diabaté performing “Hafia Football Club – Triple Champion d'Afrique” as the soundtrack.
         - At 27’40” we see an all-female orchestra in the parade which is likely Les Amazones de Guinée, though as Guinea had at least two all-female orchestras it could also be the Orchestre Feminin de Mamou (whose recordings for the RTG include Autorail, Douga, Djarabi and Guantanamera).
         - At 32’21” the post-match soirée commences and we hear Demba Camara and Bembeya Jazz National performing “Pont l’amitie”, unreleased on Syliphone, with Sékou Diabaté on slide guitar. (Links to the full versions are below).
         - At 34’37” we hear Keletigui et ses Tambourinis performing a live version of “Temedi” (a wonderful studio clip of it is here).
         - Unfortunately I can’t recognise the orchestra who appears at 34’41” – is that Kerfala Camara on the right? If it is then the orchestra is Keletigui et ses Tambourinis, especially as “Temedi” is dubbed over the footage, however it could be a different orchestra.
         - At 36’11” we hear Kemo(ko) Kouyaté, the rhythm guitarist from Balla et ses Balladins, who later joined Myriam Makeba’s Quintette Guinéenne, and then it’s back to “Temedi” by Keletigui.
         - At 37’42” we again hear Kemo(ko) Kouyaté, and at 37’57” we hear Kouyaté Sory Kandia & l’Ensemble Instrumental de la Voix de la Revolution who perform “Hafia”, which concludes the documentary.

  • “Pont l’amitie” was recorded by Bembeya Jazz National in circa 1970, which is my guesstimate based upon Sékou Diabaté’s slide guitar on “Alalaké”, the only other Bembeya Jazz track to feature that guitar technique. I archived “Pont l’amitie” for the Endangered Archives Programme as part of three major research projects: “Syliphone - an early recording label from Guinea”, and digitised two versions:

     Pont l’amitie (1)
     Pont l'amitie (2)

    Initially I thought the (longer) 2nd version was the best of the two recordings, given Sékou Diabaté’s solo, and the segue is smoother, but the overall mix is better in the first version, especially the brass sections. Its dueling horn sections (saxes & trumpets) towards the end of the song remind me a lot of Franco et le TPOK Jazz’s recordings (e.g. “Liberté), who employed the same technique, and of course it is a style found in Cuban orchestras, who influenced the globe and Africa’s popular music from the west coast to the east.

If you share the two versions of “Pont l’amitie” by Bembeya Jazz National then ensure that you link to the songs at the British Library Sound archive website via the links provided above. Do not release the songs or upload the songs onto Facebook, YouTube or similar. The British Library is the legal depository of the songs and if you copy them or share them without due acknowledgement and prior agreement with The British Library and with the copyright holders, you will be breaking copyright law. The British Library is the legal depository of the two versions of “Pont l’amitie” by Bembeya Jazz National and its website clearly states that “to transmit or re-circulate any material obtained from the [The British Library] Website to any third party except where expressly permitted on the Website” is prohibited. See for further information.
Hafia (Syli-Cinema 1978)
At 32’21” Demba Camara and Bembeya Jazz National perform “Pont l’amitie”