Farafina

Burkina Faso

A flute entwines its melancholy call with the voice of the wind in the reeds as a young Peul shepherd dreams of his homeland, the dry and suncracked Sahel. He has left his sweetheart there, back in the North, and is now heading west, walking across the savannah. His destination is the royal city of the Dioulas, Bobo-Dioulasso where they told him that, in old quarter of Bolomakoté, he would find the elder, Mahama Konaté, distinguished master of the balafon and leader of a famous ensemble known as far away as lands where snow falls…

This could be the opening scene of a film that tells the story of Farafina. The setting is sparse and barren; the characters are honest and down-to-earth with a communal spirit for their music and dance of such intensity that it drives the group forward, in a whirlwind of joyous trance, to discover and communicate with other peoples of the world.

Farafina is essentially a spirtual concept, an "idea" of the music of Burkina Faso, formerly Upper Volta, which is twice as big as England, but with a population of scarcely 7 million. In Bobo-Dioulasso, the art of the griots still thrives today as during the time of the ancient Manding empire. A strong spirit of competition, stimulated by the "National Week of Culture", has made the city a tremendous crucible of musical and dancing talent.

Farafina is also a "school", a place where experience musicians ("the elders") pass on their knowledge to passionately keen young players. "The young ones begin by carrying the instruments for the master musicians when they go to lead the festivities at marriages," explains Michel Schaer, manager and agent of the group. "To begin with, they sing and beat out the rhythm on stones or make-shift instruments. And if they seem to have talent they are given a bara or a djembé on which to practice." In Bob, there are at least three groups that originate from the "Farafina school" which numbers 25 musicians. The younger groups liven up marriages and initiations while the international group, made up of the best players, comes together mainly before the tours. In this way the members of the group have been able to change over the years.
A perfect example is Yaya Ouattara, a devoted student of the "school" of Bolomakoté since the age of about 10. Fascinated by the group's leading soloist PacoYé, hios virtuosity on the djembé and his incredible mastery of dance, Yaya's greatest dream was to perform with his idol. His dream became reality, after years of determined study, when he accompanied Paco Yé on the stages of the world at the age of only 17. Two years later, his young "master" handed over to him and Yaya now stokes the fire of exhilaration in people's hearts with his pyrotechnic djembé playing.

Fanafina was formed in 1978 by Mahama Konaté, virtuoso balafon player and former member of the National Ballet of Upper Volta. Twelve years later, while he has given up the exhausting world tours, he remains the spiritual father of the group which performs many of his compositions. In 1982, when Farafina went on stage for the first time in Europe, its repertoire was very traditional. Progressively, through contact with a western public facilitated by their Swiss management, Farafina's style has developed towards new forms of expression. Collaborations with Jon Hassell for the album Flash of the Spirit, with the Rolling Stones on Steel Wheels and contributions on Ryuichi Sakamoto's Beauty were all to highlight this new direction, without compromising the integrity of Farafina's collective inspiration. This album marks the tenth anniversary of their European career and traces this development.