Pascal Keno Diatta & Sona Mane: Balanta Guitar music

One of my favorite recordings of the late 1980s was Simnade+4, Pascal Diatta and Sona Mané's release on Rogue records.  I used to listen to this CD constantly, obsessively trying to work out the guitar parts.

The Balanta are the largest ethnic group in Guinea-Bissau, representing roughly a quarter of the population.  There are relatively smaller Balanta communities in the Ziguinchor region of southern Senegal and in the Gambia.  For the last thirty years, Sona Mané has been the emblematic voice of Senegal's Balanta community.  For the first two decades of her career she performed with her husband Pascal 'Keno' Diatta.  He started playing guitar while still a child, transposing Balanta balafon rhythms to the guitar.  After completing his military service, Keno joined briefly the U.C.A.S. de Sedhiou before striking out with Sona.  The couple lived for many years in the Kande neighborhood of Ziguinchor, performing for baptisms and weddings.  The couple were also regular guests on radio programs in Ziguinchor and Guinea-Bissau.

Keno Diatta and Sona Mané performed together until their divorce in the late 1990s.  Keno soon remarried and continued to perform with his second wife, but they were never as popular as his duo with Sona.  Pascal Keno Diatta passed away in 2017.

In 2003, Sona was recruited by the group Njama Naaba and she continues to perform regularly throughout Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau with the group.  Sona splits her time between Dakar and Ziguinchor.

This post features two sets of recordings from Pascal and Sona, a session that was probably recorded at Radio Televisão da Guiné-Bissau and six tracks released on the Lyrichord label in the mid 1980s--the label has digitally reissued a good deal of their catalogue but seems to have forgotten this release.  I don't know anything about the circumstances of the radio recordings; I can't even confirm that these are radio recordings.  These four tracks were buried at the end of the B-Side of a 90 minute cassette entitled 'Folclore' that a journalist from Guinea-Bissau gave me years ago.

Download Pascal Keno Diatta and Sona Mane

The six Lyrichord tracks were recorded by Kimberly Safford, who is now a Senior Lecturer in education studies at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England.  In 1983, Safford was travelling throughout West Africa, she met Pascal Diatta and Sona Mané in Ziguinchor and recorded these six songs in their courtyard, using a Sony walkman with a Sennheiser microphone.

Both of these sessions more prominently feature Sona than the Rogue records release.  On the radio recordings Pascal mostly accompanies Sona's vocals.  We hear more of his voice on the Lyrichord songs but not as prominently as on the Simnade tracks.

Here is a 2016 video of Njama Naaba with Sona Mane.  The mix isn't the greatest but it has a nice energy. 

If you are in Dakar this August, the group are performing in a few weeks time.  Check them out! 

Enjoy the music!