ELIADES OCHOA guitar and vocals (born Songo la Maya, Cuba 1946)
With his trademark cowboy hat and penchant for wearing black, Eliades Ochoa has been dubbed ’Cuba’s Johnny Cash’. There’s more than a fashion statement in the comparison to America’s greatest country singer, too, for Ochoa is a ‘guajiro’ (from the countryside) and a champion of rural Cuban styles such as son and guararcha.
One of the younger members of the Buena Vista Social Club, at 63, he’s now become something of an elder statesman himself and has been a professional musician for almost half a century. For many years he was a regular at Santiago’s famous Casa de la Trova and in 1978 he took over the leadership of Cuarteto Patria, a Cuban institution which by then had already been performing for almost 40 years. He recorded two albums with the group for the Mexican Corason label and in 1986 met the veteran singer Compay Segundo, who joined Cuarteto Patria for a time. While with the group Segundo recorded the album ‘Chanchaneando’ which featured the original version of ‘Chan Chan’.
A decade after their first meeting, Ochoa and Segundo famously reunited to perform ‘Chan Chan’ as the opening track on the Grammy winning ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. To that album Eliades also contributed lead vocals and guitar on El Cuarto de Tula, and his own guajira showcase on El Carretero. Since Buena Vista, he has recorded several fine albums under his own name including ‘Cubafrica’ (1998) with the great Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango; ‘Sublime Ilusión’ (1999); ‘Tributo a Cuarteto Patria’ (2000) and ‘Estoy Como Nunca’ (2002). He continues to lead Grupo Patria and tours regularly around the world.
TOUMANI DIABATÉ kora (born Bamako, Mali 1965)
One of the most significant musicians in Africa, Toumani Diabaté is the leading exponent of the West African harp known as the kora. Born in Bamako, he inherited his musical gifts from a long family lineage of kora masters. A child prodigy, he recorded his debut album ‘Kaira’ in London in 1986 at the age of 21. Playing bass, rhythm and solo simultaneously on the instrument’s 21 strings, it was the first ever album of solo kora music and the start of a remarkable international career.
As an innovative and experimental collaborator, he recorded the two acclaimed ‘Songhai’ albums with the Spanish flamenco group Ketama and has worked with Damon Albarn, Björk, and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). His collaboration with Taj Mahal on 1999’s ‘Kulanjan’ explored the connections between West African music and the blues and was cited by Barrack Obama as his favourite album during the presidential election campaign.
In the more traditional vein, he has recorded widely with most of the greatest names in Malian music, both on his own albums and as a guest on releases by singers such as Salif Keita and Kasse Mady Diabaté. In recent years, he has recorded a series of thrillingly diverse releases for World Circuit, including two albums of kora-guitar duets with Ali Farka Touré, including the Grammy winning ‘In the Heart of the Moon’ (2004); ‘Boulevard de l¹Indépendance’ (2005) with his groundbreaking Symmetric Orchestra; and the acoustic solo kora collection ‘The Mandé Variations’ (2008).
BASSEKOU KOUYATE ngoni (born Garana, Mali 1966)
Descended from a long line of griots, Bassekou Kouyate was born in the Segu region of Mali, where his mother was a famous singer and his father was a celebrated player of the ngoni ba, (banjo-like lute) on the local wedding party circuit. At the age of 16, Bassekou took his father’s place and by the end of the 1980s he had joined Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra.
Since then he has revolutionised the playing of the ngoni (an instrument dating back to the fourteenth century), adding extra strings to give him a wider melodic range and inventing new plucking methods to allow faster runs and more versatility. He also became the first ngoni player to use the instrument like a guitar, performing standing, instead of in the traditional seated position. As an accompanist, he went on to record with a wide variety of performers, including Taj Mahal, Ali Farka Touré, and the second Songhai album, before forming the ngoni quartet Ngoni Ba and making his debut as a band leader on ‘Segu Blue’, which won the 2007 BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music as best album. He followed it in 2009 with a second album, ‘I Speak Fula’, which was similarly praised, and he’s very much in demand on the live circuit, as well as being an important collaborator with Africa Express.
KASSE MADY DIABATÉ vocals (born Kangaba, Mali 1949)
Now in his early 60s, the veteran griot singer Kasse Mady Diabaté began performing with the Super Mandé orchestra more than 40 years ago. He went on to become lead vocalist with National Badema (previously known as Las Maravillas de Mali). The band originally consisted of Malian musicians who had been sent to Cuba by the Mali government to train in Havana’s music conservatoires. After nearly eight years there, they returned home to find Mali under a policy of cultural authenticity under which the Maravillas were encouraged to develop a more indigenous rather than Cuban repertoire, and to take a Malian name, thus becoming National Badema (national family). And to help them create a more local sound, they recruited the traditional griot singer Kasse Mady, although their sound remained infused with a strong Cuban flavour.
He recorded his debut solo album ‘Fode’ in Paris, in 1989. An electric, dance-based recording produced by Ibrahima Sylla, he followed it a year later with a contrasting album of acoustic griot songs, ‘Kela Tradition’ (1990). He also sang on the fusion album ‘Songhai 2’ (1995) with Ketama and Toumani Diabaté. After almost a decade in Paris, he returned to Mali in 1998 and joined Taj Mahal, Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyate on the recording of ‘Kulanjan’ and became lead vocalist with Toumani’s Symmetric Orchestra on the 2006 album, ‘Boulevard de l’Indépendance’. AfroCubism is not the first time he has worked with Cuban musicians, for the late Buena Vista Social Club star Cachaíto López guested on his 2003 solo album ‘Kassi Kasse’. His most recent solo album ‘Manden Djeli Kan’ appeared in 2009.
DJELIMADY TOUNKARA guitars (born Kita, Mali in 1947)
Arguably the finest guitarist in Africa, Djelimady Tounkara was born in Kita and grew up playing drums and the xalam (lute). His parents wanted him to become an Islamic cleric but the plan was abandoned as soon as he saw and heard his first guitar. After early success playing in the Kita regional; band, by the mid-1960s he had moved to Bamako, where he joined Misra Jazz before he was promoted to join the state-sponsored Orchestre National as rhythm guitarist.
After the orchestra was disbanded, he joined the now legendary Rail Band in the early 1970s in what became known as their second period, playing at the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, next to Bamako’s train station in a line up that included the singers Salif Keita and Mory Kante. He remained the Rail Band’s arranger and lead guitarist throughout its glory years and in its later revival as the Super Rail Band, and continues to perform with them in Bamako to this day. In addition to appearing on all the Rail Band’s recordings, he has also released the solo acoustic albums, ‘Sigui’ (2001) and ‘Solon Kono’ (2006) and ‘Big String Theory’ (2002) with his trio Bajourou.
FODE LASSANA DIABATÉ balafon (born Conakry, Guinea, 1971)
Lassana Diabaté is recognised as the outstanding balafon (ancestor of marimba) player of his generation. Born in Guinea into a family of virtuoso balafon players, he grew up studying the instrument in the country’s traditional style before moving to Mali where he took advantage of the greater freedom with which the balafon is played there. He became a protégé of the great Kélétigui Diabaté from whom he learned the technique of playing two balafons simultaneously, the additional instrument possessing the equivalent of the black keys on the piano.
He has appeared on albums by Salif Keita, Bassekou Kouyate, and Kasse Mady Diabaté among others, and has been a long-standing member of Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra. He also played on ‘Kulanjan’, Toumani’s celebrated collaboration with the American bluesman Taj Mahal.
BABA SISSOKO talking drum (born Bamako, Mali, 1963)
Not only a master of the tamani (talking drum), Baba is equally adept at playing the ngoni, kamelngoni, bala and calabash. In the mid 1980s he was part of the prestigious Instrumental Ensemble of Mali orchestra, playing the tamani and ngoni. In 1991 he founded Baba Sissoko & Taman Kan, incorporating traditional Malian influences with blues, jazz and rock; they have toured extensively and released a number of albums. At the same time Baba forged a rather successful career collaborating with a whole host of musicians from both Mali and abroad, most notably his acclaimed 12 year relationship with Habib Koité.
Over the years Baba has released several solo albums and has worked with artists as diverse as Art Ensemble of Chicago, Angá Díaz, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Rokia Traoré, and AKA Moon. He also has taught traditional drum in Brussels, Belgium, and led conferences for the University of Calibre’s Art, Music, and Spectacle Centre in Italy.
JOSE ANGEL MARTINEZ double bass (born Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, 1977)
Studied double bass at the Conservatorio Estaban Salas, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, winning prizes at various city-wide and national Amadeo Roldán competitions. His first full time professional job was with Eliades Ochoa’s Grupo Patria, joining several months after graduating in 2000.
Over the past decade has recorded and toured worldwide with Eliades, but has also recorded some tracks for the Grammy nominated album “Tributo al Cuarteto Patria” as well as playing on the album “Aires” by the famous Spanish singer José Mercé.
JORGE MATURELL congas, bongos, cowbell (born Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, 1963)
Studied music at the Escuela de Nivel Medio Superior de Superación Profesional. In 1984 founded the Septeto Turquino, recording many albums including “Son para los Rumberos”, which won the EGREM Prize in 1996, the prize of Bienes de Fondos Culturales, and special mention in the Opera Prima category in the Cubadisco Festival in 1997. In the late nineties he recorded “Amor a Santiago” with singer-songwriter Alberto Tosca, and “La Banda” with Francés Cirius Martínez.
In 2000 he joined Grupo Patria with whom he played on “Estoy Como Nunca” and “Tributo al Cuarteto Patria”. He also played on “Aires” by José Mercé, and recorded with “Eliades Ochoa y la Banda el Jigüe”. As well as being a percussionist he doubles as manager/administrator for Grupo Patria.
ONSEL ODIT chorus vocals, rhythm acoustic guitar (born Granma, Cuba, 1965)
Was a long term member of Septeto Turquino with Jorge Maturell from 1984-2000. During this time he also performed and recorded with a variety of Cuban artists, and also won first prize in the OTI performance competition in 1998 and represented Cuba in the International event in San José in Costa Rica.
Over the past decade he has been a member of Grupo los Olivos, Grupo AKAN, and since 2005 has been a member of Grupo Patria. Onsel’s own compositions have been performed by Sexteto Moneda Nacional, Morena Son, Adalberto Álvarez, Roberto Torres, Tamara, Eduardo Sosa, Oscar de León, amongst others. His music has also appeared in the film 9911 and in the hit US TV series Alias.
EGLIS OCHOA maracas, guiro, chorus vocals (born Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, 1972)
Began his musical studies at Esteban Salas Conservatory as a violinist, although as a student would play periodically with Quinteto Oriente and Grupo Patria. At the end of his studies in 1994 he joined his father Eliades Ochoa as a full time member of Grupo Patria as vocalist and percussionist, where he has remained until this day.
As one of the longest serving members of the group, performed on the trio of Grammy nominated Eliades Ochoa albums at the start of the last decade, and toured extensively worldwide with the Buena Vista Social Club Star, enjoying the Cuban music boom that the project kick-started.
Label: World Circuit
Distribution in France: Harmonia Mundi
Release date: October 21, 2010
AfroCubism is World Circuit’s dream project – the original intention for Buena Vista Social Club was a stellar collaboration of musicians from Mali and Cuba. Now the original plan has finally been realised with an incredible line-up including Eliades Ochoa, Bassekou Kouyate, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabaté, Grupo Patria, Kasse Mady Diabaté and Lassana Diabaté.