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Momo Wandel Soumah - Felenko Yefe



Type of Spiritual Experience


Momo Wandel Soumah (died June 15, 2003) was a singer, composer, and saxophonist from Guinea, recognisable by his characteristic gravelly voice.

Soumah started out in the 1950s playing in dance bands,] but moved to modern Guinean music following the cultural revolution. From the mid 1980s Soumah developed an idiosyncratic blend of jazz and African traditional music.

He died suddenly on June 15, 2003. At the time of his death Soumah was musical director of Circus Baobab

A description of the experience

Félenko Yéfé by Momo Wandel Soumah

Soumah's personal history parallels that of modern Guinean music. His artistic life began in 1947 when he was a young man and Guinea was still a French colony. Employed as the manager of the local post office in the provincial capital of Labé, he became increasingly distracted from his duties by local musical gatherings. He took up several traditional instruments before learning how to play the banjo and mandolin.

When he moved to the national capital of Conakry in 1951, he joined the dance orchestra La Joviale Symphony, a group that gained prestige by entertaining the colonial elite with renditions of ballroom standards. Soumah taught himself to play clarinet, and later saxophone, which was to become his instrument of choice. By independence, in 1958, Soumah was playing saxophone for La Douce Parisette, Conakry's second leading dance outfit. But when President Ahmed Sékou Touré initiated his "cultural revolution", which urged artists to return to their African roots, rather than copying foreign styles, the ensemble disbanded.

The musicians found work in the orchestras that were founded to create, research and promote "modern Guinean music", which married traditional styles with Cuban melodies and harmonies. During this period, Soumah played with the famous big band Keletigui et ses Tambourins, with whom he recorded and participated in several national and regional festivals.

Soumah entered his most creative phase, however, after the breakdown of Touré's regime and the establishment of the Second Guinean Republic in 1985. The majority of artists tried to earn quick money with standard pop productions, but Soumah remained one of the country's most inventive and hard-working artists. While his friend, the former national director of culture Telivel Diallo, shared his love for the music of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker with him, Soumah applied his musical knowledge increasingly to his idiosyncratic interpretations of jazz. No longer satisfied with only expressing himself through the saxophone, he increasingly took to the microphone, and quickly attracted a cult following with his gruff voice, so reminiscent of Louis Armstrong.

As leader of the Wandel Sextet, he created his trademark, fusing Guinea's many traditional styles with his humorous approach to jazz. His two acclaimed releases Matchow (1992) and Afro Swing (2002) are lasting documents of his achievements. In his recent work with Guinea's acrobatic troupe, Circus Baobab, documented in an insightful documentary (2001) by Laurent Chevalier, he made life-changing contributions to the careers of numerous young musicians.

His humble family compound in Conakry's rugged Dixinn district incessantly attracted eager apprentices and colleagues from his dance band days, who gathered to learn from his wisdom and find inspiration in his infectious sense of humour.

Recognition came late in life for this "dinosaur of Guinean music", as he liked to refer to himself. His international touring schedule suddenly became busier over the past five years, as the world music industry caught on to Soumah's work.

He died in Guinea two months after his return from a concert tour of Belgium. The Malian historian Amadou Hampate Bah once stated that in the largely oral cultures of Africa, the loss of every old man equals the burning down of a library. Thus the death of Soumah brings the loss of a rich musical archive.

He is survived by his two wives and 10 children.

· Momo "Wandel" Soumah, musician, born 1926; died June 15 2003.

The source of the experience

African tribal

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