‘Looking back on the past’, an epic hymn in honor of the Guinean Sékou Touré



This is part 4 of a 6 part series

Read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

‘Looking back on the past’ also tells the story of Samory Touré, a hero of the Guinean resistance who challenged French colonial rule. “Culture is a better means of domination than a gun,” he once said.

After Guinea’s independence on October 2, 1958, its new president used artists to consolidate Power, promote patriotism and turn historical persons as Samory Touré in national heroes.

Tribute to bravery

Samory, the founder of the Wassoulou empire and figure of the anti-colonial resistance who died in captivity on a Gabonese island, was Sékou’s great-grandfather. Sékou repatriated the ashes of his ancestor at the end of 1968, launching a national song contest to pay tribute to the bravery of these fighters who dared to stand up to the colonial invaders of Guinea. Many orchestras have taken up the challenge.

He is the reason we are where we are today, he is the larger than life force that introduced us to our culture. Before independence, we knew France and its history, but nothing else.

Since Guinea’s independence, private orchestras have been dissolved, with many musicians becoming civil servants. Each of the country’s prefectures and 2,500 “local revolutionary authorities” had their own group, but the president preferred one in particular: Bembeya Jazz. The group formed in 1961 (which changed its name to National Jazz Bembeya five years later), was one of the The largest orchestras in Guinea time. Signed on the state label Syliphone, their music has been broadcast on Guinean Radio Television. Sékou attended some of their long rehearsals and brought in griots [akin to bards in Western culture] and party ideologues as consultants to advise musicians.

Lasting just under 40 minutes, the long epic poem Looking back (“Looking back to the past”) – which is still available in the Syllart Records catalog – was transformed into a song by Bembaya Jazz National and performed for the first time on October 2, on the occasion of Independence Day in People Palace in Conakry. The track won the competition, naturally.

Balafon, trumpets and guitars

The group’s lead singer, Demba Camara, performed the anthem disguised as “couch”, a Mandingo term for the soldiers who fought alongside Samory. In the song itself, balafon, trumpets and guitars answer each other before giving way to Demba’s.[HE3] singing in the spoken parts of Malinké and Sékou Camara, recited in French.

After exhorting the sons, women and young people of Africa to listen to their story, the artists delve into the political message of the song: “There are men who, although physically absent, continue and will continue to live eternally in the hearts of their fellow men. Colonialism, to justify its domination, portrayed them as bloodthirsty and savage kings. But, crossing the dawn of time, their story has come down to us in all its glory.

Under the homage to Samory, the revolutionary leader Sékou is clearly celebrated: “Thanks to you, we have become men / Thanks to you, we have acquired independence / You are a model Guinean, and your enemies will be forever defeated .

Silver medal at the Pan-African Festival of Algiers

The epic song has enjoyed success far beyond the borders of Guinea. The Bembeya Jazz National received a silver medal at the Pan-African Festival of Algiers and enchanted a wide range of great orchestras south of the Sahara, in countries such as Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Senegal, who in turn set their own historical epics in music.

In 1971, shortly after the release of Looking back, the band composed a new song, CEO path (“The way of the PDG”), who praised the Guinean political party Democratic Party of Guinea and its leader, President Touré, more openly. the song came at a time when the latter’s diet falls back into authoritarianism, Touré ordering the arrest and execution of his opponents, real or imagined. Émile Condé, former regional governor and one of the very first promoters of the Bembeya Jazz National, died a prisoner at Camp Boiro.

In an interview given in 2002 to the French media RFI, the conductor of the group Achken Kaba and the guitarist Sekouba Diabaté did not deny their praise for the late president. “He’s the reason we’re where we are today, he’s the larger than life force that introduced us to our culture. Before independence, we knew France and its history, but nothing else.


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