100% Forested Guinea: an introduction to the musical traditions behind today’s popular music, recorded between November 1999 and April 2001 be Frédéric Migeon.
In 1998, I was living in Forested Guinea for my work. Being curious about music, I bought some audio cassettes of traditional music at the N’Zérékoré market. Despite the very poor quality of the recordings and duplications, I was introduced to string and wind instruments that I had never heard before, with strange polyrhythmic sounds and polyphonic singing.
What a discovery! But how frustrating to not be able to hear them better! All the more so since the music from this region, which is populated by animist ethnic groups (Guerzé, Manon, Toma, Kono, etc.), is primarily sacred in nature and linked to the events that punctuate village life, making it difficult to access – especially for foreigners. Spurred by my curiosity, I became acquainted with – and ultimately befriended – one of the cassette and audio equipment merchants at the N’Zérékoré market. Marcel Haba, the owner of Nimba Electronics, invited me to his place to listen to one of the last tra- ditional Guerzé storytellers: Zézé Wolo. One thing led to another (as did the raffia wine), and an idea began to germinate: together we would produce a high-quality recording of traditional music from Forested Guinea.
And so it was that over the course of several weeks, Marcel contacted the traditional authorities and in 1999, we travelled the several hundred kilometers through often difficult terrain to reach the villages where we would record various different groups and instruments.
After we had made a selection of representative tracks and designed the cover, we had a cassette made in the Ivory Coast. Marcel Haba was the exclusive distributer in the N’Zérékoré market of the first industrially produced audio cassette of music from Forested Guinea, a source of great pride for the people of Forested Guinea, who are often marginalized by the other ethnicities of the Conakry region.
This traditional music, despite being a driving force behind the cultural revolution led by Sékou Tou- ré in Conakry, was already rare in 1999. When the Conakry region opened up after the death of the country’s first president in 1984, musical traditions were threatened by external influences, both cultural and religious. The storyteller and musician from Gwènin, Zézé Wolo, died in 2001; Siba Pogba, apparently the last musician in the region to play this astonishing ancestor of the Kora, the Bèlè Gweï, passed away just months after the recording.
I hope that listening to this rare and remarkable music will bring you as much pleasure as I found in discovering it.