Shimmering, sweet sound of Diallo

Musical Champion: Alpha Yaya Diallo

Musical Champion: Alpha Yaya Diallo

By Stephen Cooke

AMONG CANADIAN world music artists there are few sounds sweeter than the shimmering guitar finger work of West African musician Alpha Yaya Diallo.

A three-time Juno Award winner, Diallo’s immaculate playing meshes perfectly with his plaintive vocals on songs contrasting his life in Guinea with the challenges he’s faced since leaving his homeland and settling in Vancouver.

Last in Halifax for the 2010 Atlantic Jazz Festival, where he performed with violinist Chris Church, Diallo comes to the Maritimes this week on his first trip here as a solo performer, giving fans a chance to hear his music in a different light.

“When I play solo, I play some of the songs I played growing up,” says Diallo, who performs Wednesday night at Halifax’s Seahorse Tavern and Friday in the Annapolis Valley at Margaretsville’s Evergreen Theatre.

“It reminds me of when I was sitting in a mango tree playing guitar. We had many of them growing where I lived in Guinea.

“This week I’m playing solo, it’s something I do sometimes, to show my guitar skills. I grew up playing guitar on my own, and I miss that time sometimes because I just love playing. I think that’s my identity, as Alpha Yaya Diallo, playing guitar. It’s my whole career, so I have to do it often.”

Diallo’s last album was the 2010 release Imme, a multi-faceted recording with B.C. violinist/producer Jesse Zubot at the helm. Since he wrapped up touring with that record, he’s been busy with his latest project, the West African Summit, which he took out on the road through Canada last year.

Now he’s in the middle of mixing a live recording from those shows, and he hopes to take the large ensemble coast to coast with its nine members, including kora master Prince Diabate and dancer Mariama Camara, along with Thomas Ehru Niamke (drums), Vegari Cendar (bass), Naby Camara (balafon) and N’nato Camara (dance/vocals).

“I have many friends around the world, from Africa to Europe to America,” says Diallo, who’s planning his return to the East Coast with the West African Summit in the summer of 2014.

“Sometimes I feel it’s hard to get people together, but I want to invite players of all the instruments you never get to see or hear around here like the kora (African thumb piano) and the balafon (African marimba), all very traditional instruments.

“I like to keep that background, always. I want to mix traditional and contemporary African music all the time. I wanted to show (with the Summit) how these instruments can connect pop and funk and jazz. They can be used in all different kinds of instruments.”

The West African Summit has its roots in Diallo’s earlier, Juno-nominated African Guitar Summit recordings. But with the wider variety of instruments and the visual element of dance, it gives him a chance to make things fresh and interesting for himself as well as keep audiences entertained in an increasingly crowded musical marketplace.

“You always have to bring new elements to every project, and I think all of my six albums are different,” he says.

“That’s how I’ve survived as a musician all this time. It’s been 20 years now. It gets more difficult without labels to support artists. It’s crazy expensive to tour. You used to be able to fly from Vancouver to Halifax for $300, but those days are gone.”

For more on Alpha Yaya Diallo and his music, visit www.alphayayadiallo.com.

Source – The Chronicle Herald

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