Alpha Yaya Diallo - Biography

By J Poet

Born and raised in Guinea-Conakry, Alpha Yaya Diallo is a singer, songwriter, and bandleader currently living in Vancouver, Canada. He is Foulani and bases his music on traditional Foulani forms, but he is familiar with many African and Western traditions including funk and rock, which gives his music a balance of traditional and contemporary styles. His third album, The Message (1998 Wicklow/BMG), won a Juno (often referred to as the “Canadian Grammy”) for Best Global Music Album in 1999. The Journey (2001 Jericho Beach Music) followed up with a Juno for Best Global Music Album in 2002.


Diallo was born into a progressive family that encouraged his musical and cultural explorations. His father was a doctor who traveled throughout Guinea-Conakry and Senegal, exposing his son to the music and traditions of the Malenke and Sousou of Guinea, the mbalax of Senegal, the mourna and funana of Cape Verde, and various Caribbean rhythms including reggae and rumba. Young Diallo was most fascinated by the music of the West African griots, a traditional class of singers, players, and culture bearers who jealously guard their repertoire, but he was also equally aware of pop music from around the world. He thought a fusion of the two might yield interesting results.


Diallo was a well-known musician and played in the local bands The Sons of Ra’is and Syli Authentique while still quite young. Syli Authentique made some recordings for the Syllart label, but only one song, “Fabara,” was released on a rare vinyl compilation. After graduating from college, Diallo moved to England. In 1989, Fatala, a band that played traditional Mandingo percussion music augmented by electric guitar, recruited him to add his unique guitar lines to their live shows. In 1991, when Fatala toured the West Coast of North America, Diallo left the band and relocated to Canada. In Canada, he put together his own group and started the independent label Bafing Productions.


His first release under his own name and on his own label was Nene (1993 Bafing Productions), a one-man tour de force of acoustic and electric guitar, balafon, and percussion. Nene received a Juno nomination for Best Global Music Album. 1996’s Futur (1996 Bedouin Soundtracks) is a full band effort with his group the Bafing Riders, which combines West African styles into a smooth danceable groove. Futur was also nominated for a Best Global Music Juno. The following year’s, Aduna (1997 Tinder Records) introduced Diallo to the U.S. with a collection of tracks from his first two albums. The compilation did well enough to get him signed by Chieftains leader Paddy Moloney’s short-lived world music label Wicklow. 1998’s The Message (1998 Wicklow/BMG) finally earned Diallo a Juno Award. His guitar playing is subtle but driving, with each note ringing as clear as a bell as the band lays down a relentless groove with hints of reggae, funk, and soukous floating through the mix. 


In 2001, Diallo released The Journey (2001 Jericho Beach Music), a collaboration with Ousmane Kouyaté, former guitarist for Les Ambassadeurs and Salif Keita. It includes both acoustic and full band numbers, and won Diallo his second Juno Award. Djama (2005 Jericho Beach Music), released in 2005, is a low key, but impressive collection of acoustic songs with Karamoko Kouyaté of Mali’s Rail Band adding his guitar expertise. In 2010 he released Imme.

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