Tantié Sanogo, Bwaba Balafon from Burkina Faso

'Le Sport Bar', in Gounghin, is one of Ouagadougou's most popular old-school dancehalls.  Every Friday and Saturday night, there are several hundred mopeds parked, in neat lines, out front, with regular patrons arriving early to secure tables near the dancefloor.  The building doesn't look like much, if you were to drive by on a wednesday morning, you wouldn't notice the place.  It is a squat, low building, on the corner of the rue 9.95 and the nameless boulevard that is home to the neighborhood's liveliest bars and nightclubs.  The building has two entrances and no roof.  There is a gazebo-like structure in the middle of the courtyard, and a hundred battered tin tables, and four times as many chairs, taking up the rest of the space.  Under the gazebo is a ceramic-tiled dancefloor, bathed in the light of a few colored spotlights.  The house band sits between the east wall and the edge of the dancefloor.  The singers are at eye-level with and arms-length from the dancers.

 The Sport Bar at dusk

The house band includes two guitar players, a bass player, two keyboards, a drummer, and a percussionist.  Six to ten singers, depending on the night, sit to the left and right of the band, taking center stage when their turn comes to sing 'their' songs.  The house band has a well rehearsed repertoire that includes manding classics (think Rail Band or Bembeya Jazz), guitar highlife hits, Senegalese salsa covers, popular Congolese rumba tunes, and warba dancefloor killers--warba is one of the more popular Mossi rhythms.  When I first started going to the Sport Bar, back in 2011, Amadou Balaké could usually be seen sitting to the right of the band, leaning his arms against his cane and staring impassively at the dancefloor.  When it was his turn to sing, he would slide forward on his metal chair, raise his head, and belt it out.

Last Saturday evening, I was back at the Sport Bar.  The place, as usual, was packed.  By the time we arrived, around 11:30 pm, the band was well into their set.  The dancefloor was packed with middle-aged men, proud of their prosperous stomachs, gracefully shuffling with their full-figured dance partners.  The tables were wobbly with beer bottles and the waitresses were dancing between the chairs.  We found a table with a view of the dance floor, but not of the band, against the far wall.  We ordered our drinks and enjoyed the scene.

The band kicked into a Salif Keita cover and the two women at the table in front of us took a break from fiddling with their phones, rose from their seats, raised their arms in praise, gave an encouraging yell, and danced in place.  The band followed with a  warba, and the woman seated at the table to our left jumped to her feet.  She was wearing a white boubou with colored squares.  Her male companion sat back in his chair and took a slug of his beer.  As the band pushed into the percussion break, the woman bent forward and started to rock her ample hips, teasing her companion with the playful rippling of her buttocks.  He laughed and took another slug of his beer.

The band--which is simultaneously tight and loose, in the way that only a band that has been playing the same six hour set every weekend, for years, can be--followed the warba with a salsa.  I was ready to move on to another bar, where a friend was singing, when a new singer took the microphone.

????? What was this????

Tantié Sanogo at the Sport Bar, December 15, 2018
(my crappy cell phone recording) 

I sat back down and closed my eyes.  A voice, with the projection and timbre that comes from singing all night in village ceremonies, was channeling the great soneros of Cuba's golden era.  Imagine Beny Moré singing for an initiation ceremony, featuring masked dancers, in a rural Burkinabé village.  I leaned over the table, and asked my friend Seydou who was singing.  "Tantié Sanogo is back", he told me. "I haven't seen him for a few years."

Tantié Sanogo is back, indeed.

Tantié Aladari Sanogo was born in 1961, in Nouna, Burkina Faso.  He was born into a Bwaba griot family, his father played the balafon and his mother sang.  He started performing in 1979, playing balafon with his father and older brother, at Oumar Traoré's cabaret, in Nouna.  They played every evening for patrons who came to drink millet beer (dolo) and dance.  Tantié stayed in Nouna until 1983, when a group of female fans convinced him to move to Dédougou, the regional capital.  In Dédougou, he started to perform for Djandjoba (baptisms, weddings) and at a popular cabaret (in the Burkina context a cabaret is a rural millet-beer joint, similar to an azmaribet in Ethiopia).

 In 1991, Tantié was recruited by the miliary band of the RPC (Régiment parachutiste commando), based in Dédougou.  He moved onto the military base and became the orchestra's singer.  The next year, Tantié went into the studio to record "Togotiena", his first cassette of original songs.  The cassette was produced by the Faso Ambiance cassette label of Dédougou.  All of the songs were recorded, with members of the RPC band, at the studio Mimiley, in Ouagadougou.  The arrangements were done by guitar player Issouf Diabaté.  The cassette introduced Tantié to a national audience.

In 1994, Tantié travelled abroad for the first time, performing in Ghana with the RPC orchestra.  His second cassette, "Ebomaf" (the name of the Dédougou based construction company owned by Mahamadou Bonkongou, Burkina's richest man) was released in 1995.  Like the first, this cassette was produced by Faso Ambiance and recorded at studio Mimiley in Ouagadougou, with the same group of musicians, and arrangements by Issouf Diabaté.

 In 2001, Tantié, encouraged by his success, moved to Ouagadougou.  He quickly found a new producer (Seydoni), and, in 2002, released "Bombala", his third cassette.  This cassette was also a success, in both Burkina and Mali.  Issouf Diabaté, again, did the arrangements and laid down the guitar tracks.  (Diabaté has likely appeared on more recordings than any other Burkinabé musician.
He continues to perform with dozens of different artists in Burkina Faso.  He recorded and toured with the late Victor Démé, and appears on both of Baba Commandant's recent Sublime Frequencies releases.)

Tantié Sanogo 

Tantié's string of successes gave him the courage to seek out his idol, and, in 2008, he travelled to Bamako to meet multi-instrumentalist Zani Diabaté.  Tantié spent enough time in Bamako to record a set of new compositions with Zani.  These tracks were released as "Salsa", his self-produced fourth cassette.  Their collaboration continued when Zani brought Tantié along for a series of concerts in Senegal and Guinee.

In 2014, Tantié suffered a mysterious illness.  He felt something--he described it to me as a small insect--fly into his eyes.  His eyes became irritated and his vision cloudy.  He sought treatment in Ouagadougou and Koudougou, but his vision grew increasingly cloudy.  Convinced his illness had mystical causes, Tantié returned to Dédougou to consult a guérisseur (a traditional healer).  On November 15, 2014, he went blind.  This was the beginning of several years of suffering.  Tantié's wives left him, and for the next three years he rarely left his house, surviving only thanks to the support of several loyal patrons.

After four years of hardship, Tantié is back.  He has returned to Ouagadougou and has recorded a new set of songs.  The CD is called "Colonisation" and was just recently released in Burkina.  Tantié no longer plays the balafon, but he has taken up the kora.  And he has started to perform in public once again, appearing most weekends at either the Sport Bar or the Boulgou Bar.

If you make it to Ouagadougou, make sure you carve out a Friday or Saturday night to enjoy the dancing at the Sport Bar.  If you are lucky, Tantié will be on hand to sing a few songs.  



  1. Enjoying your gift after some unpleasant days due to a hard-disk crash, it is interesting the guitar of Issouf Diabaté with Songhay style inside the Bwa rhythms in Bombala, but I like much more your improvised recording, it hurts that it is so short.

    I guess if you had Tantie's fourth album "Salsa" you would have shared it in this post, right?

    1. Hi Ngoni. Yes. I wish I had a longer recording of Tantié's performance at the Sports bar. It only occurred to me a few minutes into the song to record some of it. I was completely swept up by his performance. 'Bombala' is the only one of his recordings that I have. I am going to try and find the others. I will let you know if I have any luck. Sorry to hear about your hard drive crashing.

  2. Thanks Matthew, it does not matter, those five minutes are wonderful!

    That's the African magic, the most repeated of the Cuban versions, like "La Bamba",
    can regenerate exponentially with the strength of an African Band and become a whirlwind of unstoppable energy .
    Rethinking and getting a sample is a miracle.

    Receiving that flash is fantastic.
    There is no small diamond.


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