Renowned Guinean guitarist and composer Kanté Manfila died in Paris on 20 July, aged sixty five, following a long illness.
Born in Farabanah, Guinea, in 1946 into a jeli (West African Manding musicians and oral historians) family, Manfila learned how to play the bala (balafon) and guitar while in Guinea, then as a teenager moved to Abijdan (Ivory Coast) to live with an uncle, where he began playing the guitar at social events in the Ivorian capital.
He went on to study at Abidjan’s school of music with the support of a sponsor, where he absorbed influences from Manding traditional music, blues and Afro-Cuban sounds. In 1972 he joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel in Bamako (Mali) as lead guitarist and vocalist. That same year Malian singer Salif Keita (who had left the Rail Band de Bamako) also joined Les Ambassadeurs as lead vocalist. Although the band had an excellent reputation, the economic and political situation in Mali wasn’t deteriorating, so in 1978 Kanté Manfila, Salif Keita, and other members of the group moved to Abidjan and created Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux. They rapidly gained popularity propelled by classic hits such as as ‘Mandjou’, ‘Seydou Bathily’, ‘Ntoma’, and ‘Primpin’, and Manfila and Keita struck up a productive collaborative relationship that would go on for years – it was Manfila who wrote many of Salif Keita‘s hits.
As the economy in Abidjan soured in the 1980s, Manfila moved to Paris. In 1987 he released one of his pivotal solo albums, 'Blues Kankan', which explored his Manding jeli roots and featured kora player Mory Kanté. He collaborated again with Mory Kanté in the following 'Traditión' (1988) , alongside Ibrahima Diabaté on the bala. 'Diniya' (1990) explored the funky and electric side of Manfila, combining Manding roots, blues, and funk. Manfila released his fourth solo album in 1995, 'Ni Kanu' (Love). He was currently working on a new album titled 'Agnouma-Thaa'.
In 2005, Mali’s president honoured Manfila with one of the highest awards in Mali, the chevalier de l’ordre national du Mali, for his role in the development of Malian music during the 1970s. A fitting recognition of this legendary artists’ life work.
Watch one of Kanté Manfila signature guitar solos in this Les Ambassadeurs video from Malian television in the early 1980s.