Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako
The supernal singer Salif Keita, groundbreaking guitarists Kante Manfila, Ousmane Kouyate and Amadou Bagayoko (now famous as half of Amadou & Mariam), saxophonist Moussa Sissoko, organist Idrissa Soumaoro, and the extraordinary bala-xylophonist and fiddler Keletigui Diabate -- they (and as many others) were all in the great West African band called Les Ambassadeurs. They came together from several bands from four different countries (hence their name) in Bamako, Mali, in 1970. The man behind this all-star ensemble was a high-ranking officer in the military junta that governed Mali. He was eager to affirm his influence by entertaining VIPs at his favorite hangout, the Motel de Bamako, located among shady mango trees along the Niger River, and to succeed he needed an attraction at least as strong as the Rail Band, which was in residence at the popular Buffet Hotel adjacent to the city's central train station. Les Ambassadeurs immediately created a sensation with their skill at various styles, including Afro-Cuban, jazz, R&B, rock, and modernized Manding classics, and in 1973 the Rail Band's star vocalist, Salif Keita, left the Buffet Hotel to join his peers at the Motel de Bamako. In the mid-'70s Les Ambassadeurs were the pre-eminent Malian band, releasing hit after hit, touring West Africa, and even making appearances in France. The new Sterns Music 2CD album includes 18 recordings made by Les Ambassadeurs in Bamako between 1975 and 1977 (before politics compelled them to relocate to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where they became known as Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux). Most of these tracks have never previously been reissued on CD, and two of them -- Radio Mali live recordings -- have never been released until now. The album booklet contains illuminating notes, rare photographs, and reproductions of LP covers.