Album Review: Amara Touré 1973-1980

Amara Toure is missing. Nobody knows where he is, if he is alive or whatever happened to him since the 1980s. Yet, his body of work, which is all he is survived by, is one of the most irreplaceable African music discographies of all time. The Guinean went to Senegal to reinvent the afro-Cuban sound in the 1950s and his catalogue of just 10 songs is the only proof of this inspiring musical journey. These songs, remastered from the original session tapes and released via Analog Africa in 2015 are not only his legacy but also a beautiful reminder of how infinitely powerful and cruel music can be, at the same time.
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Album cover. courtesy of Analog Africa

Sonic Signature

The music on this tape begins with “N’Niyo” in a sombre fashion with a steady percussion line and his signature sensual guitar before Toure begins to croon in his silky and somewhat abrasive voice. Right from this pleasant and sharp dramatic introduction, you get a concrete sense of what Toure aimed to achieve with his music: to be sensual and timeless. His sound grazes your conscience slowly with its charming trumpet solos and sturdy, carnal acoustic guitar lines, much like in most Afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova and Samba tapes. But, Toure’s composition is much more sporadic and wild. He used the big band, soul and jazz techniques to piece the music together by bringing each instrument in one at a time. Yet, he controlled the direction and pace with his raw and brittle but captivating voice.

On this discography, you get to follow Toure’s development and his Guinean, Senegalese and Afro-Cuban sound from his time with The Black and White Ensemble in Senegal to Orchestra Massako in Gabon. Toure studied and played as a live band musician all his life from the 1950s with the band, Le Star Band de Dakar until the released of his LP in 1980 after which he disappeared. It is indeed very curious that a successful musician of such prodigious talent and fame in his prime recorded only ten songs. In these ten songs, he made sure that his sonic signature was firm. The song Salamouti epitomizes this. Here, he employs the steady Afro-Cuban baseline with congas and shakes as well as feisty brass chords in-between before providing a counter rhythm with his voice. In 9 minutes the song goes through various shifts whilst maintaining the core sensual rhythm. Indeed Toure, did create some of the most sensual Afro-Cuban music of all time by sticking to this winning formal. Love songs become conveyor belts on which you travel to joy in his music.
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Amara Toure Album Poster

Afro-Cuban Link

He understood the inherent link between his own folk music and Afro-Cuban music, which was brought to Senegal by Cuban sailors. He understood that it was this underlying link that made Senegalese in bars and clubs in the 50s, 60s and 70s go crazy for the sound. So, he decided to magnify its presence by alloying it with his influence from “sabar” and other indigenous music sounds. What you get on this discography is something like Youssou N’Dour meets rumba. Richard Bona’s latest album, Heritage also sounds close to Amara Toure. It will not be a surprise if Bona, who recorded in Cuba, was influenced by Toure. There is no denying that Caribbean music and Latin music in the Americas was influenced by traditional African music. The Yoruba pantheon and other spiritual themes are often present in such rhythms, emphasising the connection. It is also a great feeling to know that these nexuses are not lost and modern musician like Ibeyi and Dayme Arocena continue to promote that legacy and create canvasses to reflect the duality of this relationship. You do get a sense that the nexus is beyond physical and the rhythmic patterns are embedded in the conscience of black people.
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Le Star Band de Dakar

Collective Amnesia

Discovering Amara Toure brings up many interesting debates on African music. Artists all over the content have continued to create amazing bodies of work over the years that went beyond entertaining the people. Yet, collectively we do tend to exhibit some form of amnesia with regards to such works. Obscure tapes from artists like Ata Kak, Awa Poulo or Amara Toure are easily forgotten, especially after a new musical wave sweeps through the land. Listening to this tape today will undoubtedly feel like an exercise in nostalgia, especially with the quality of the record that makes the music sound gritty and rough. Yet, the genius that is embedded in the chords demonstrates why it should be more than a way of remembering the past.
Amara Toure’s discography is a curious one. You will enjoy the music so much that you will wish for more and be disappointed that there isn’t any left by this pioneer. Maybe this brevity of the catalogue also places more value on it. Even so, each of these ten tracks is a deeply satisfying reminder of a forgotten treasure.
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