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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Bembeya Jazz National

By Jeff Tamarkin
Published August 1, 2005

The Syliphone Years
Stern's Africa

Considered by many to be the greatest of the African dance bands, the name Bembeya Jazz is still synonymous with Guinean music. Launched in 1961, they achieved a level of immense popularity in the ’70s, suffered tragedy when their singer died, split in the early ’90s and recently reunited, sounding hotter than ever. The two CDs comprising The Syliphone Years draw from the group’s earliest recordings, featuring the hits that brought Bembeya their renown, as well as several rarities. The first disc, showcasing material from the group’s first LP and early singles, provides a window into Bembeya’s  formative years, but it’s disc two that is especially potent, featuring stray LP tracks from their peak in the late ’60s-early ’70s. The group’s trademark Manding Swing sound is already in place, Sekou “Diamond Fingers” Diabate is well on his way to becoming one of Africa’s most celebrated guitar virtuosos, the brass section is wailing—if it’s groove you’re after, look no further.