Idrissa Soumaoro Solo, the 1969 Radio Nationale du Mali recordings

Idrissa Soumaoro was born in Ouélessébougou, Mali, in 1949.  He was not born into a musical family, but, nonetheless, started to play music at a young age.  Influenced by the hindi films he saw at a Bamako movie theater during his summer vacation, Idrissa taught himself to play simple melodies on a plastic recorder.  Within a few years he moved on to the guitar, teaching himself to play his brother-in-law's instrument.  His first group was called Djitoumou Jazz, a group of friends that interpreted the popular songs of the day for Ouélessébougou's dancers.

In 1967, after obtaining his Diplome d'Études Fondamentales, that certifies completion of lower secondary education programmes, Idrissa applied for entry to the Institut National des Arts in Bamako.  He started the arts program in 1968, studying both music and drawing.  A year after his arrival in the capital, Idrissa recorded a set of his original compositions for the Radio Nationale du Mali, including 'Petit Imprudent (Ancien Combattant)', his most famous composition.  The song was inspired by an ancien combattant, the father of a friend from Ouélessébougou, who, scandalized by the behaviour of a young boy who hit his daughter, lost his temper with the impudent aggressor, mixing insults in 'petit français' with the recounting of his own wartime heroics.  Idrissa's song was popular enough that a Lebanese producer in Abidjan released, in 1970, a pirate pressing of the song (with three other of Idrissa's compositions).

With his song playing on the radio, Idrissa was invited to perform at the Motel de la Gare, singing his compositions during the house band's breaks.  In 1973, Idrissa was asked to join the house band, les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, featuring Salif Keita, Kante Manfila and Amadou Bakayoko.  Three years later, the group recorded two of Idrissa compositions.  In 1978, Salif Keita and Kante Manfila decided to try their luck in Abidjan, the musical capital of Francophone West Africa.  Idrissa stayed behind in Bamako with the group's blind guitar player, Amadou Bakayoko, and went to work for l'Institut des Jeunes Aveugles de Bamako, a school for the blind.  He was put in charge of the school's musical training program and formed l'Eclipse de l'I.J.A., an orchestra that featured Amadou Bakayoko and Mariam Doumbia, today known to the world as the duo Amadou & Mariam.  The orchestra toured throughout Mali, performing as part of outreach campaigns to raise awareness of the risks of Onchocerciasis (river blindness) and Trachoma.  In 1978, the orchestra released le Tioko-Tioko, an album of original compositions (the lp was reissued in 2015 by Mississippi records).

 Idrissa went on to become the director of the l'Institut des Jeunes Aveugles de Bamako.  In 1984, he enrolled at the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, for a course in braille musicology.  He returned to Bamako three years later, resumed his job at l'I.J.A, and started to perform at l'Hotel de l'Amitié with his Orchestre les Compagnons.  In 1996, Idrissa was promoted to Inspector General of Music at the National Ministry of Education, responsible for overseeing the Malian government's music education curriculum.  Two years later, he went into Bamako's studio Bogolan to record his first solo album.  Köte was released in Mali in 1998, on the Syllart label, and, three years later, licensed to Wrasse records for international release.  The album featured fourteen songs, including eight new versions of songs that Idrissa had recorded for the national radio back in 1969.  In 2010, Syllart released Djitoumou, an album that featured duos with Kandia Kouyate and Ali Farka Touré.  Last year, Idrissa was, with Baaba Maal, featured on the soundtrack to the blockbuster sensation Black Panther; his song Bèrèbèrè was used for a market scene.

 The Idrissa Soumaoro recordings I enjoy the most, however, remain unreleased.  These are his Radio Nationale du Mali recordings.  Here for your listening pleasure are fourteen of the songs he recorded back in 1969.  These songs, featuring Idrissa and his guitar, are the best examples of his songwriting talents.  This collection features songs inspired by wassoulou rhythms and others by romantic French chansons.  They all feature Idrissa's strong voice and memorable melodies.  My copy of these recordings is a cassette dub of a cassette dub of the original radio mali reel.  The quality is not the best, but the music is beautiful.

Download - Idrissa Soumaoro - Solo - The Radio Nationale du Mali Recordings


This post draws heavily on this 2009 interview, this 2003 feature written by Soro Solo, and this 2003 feature by Moussa Bolly.  The pictures are not mine, I snagged them on the internets.                


  1. Thanks once again Matthew, these historical documents are very interesting for me, perhaps Soumaoro anchored in the civil service, and who remained in the country, not shining as much as his colleagues who emigrated to Côte d'Ivoire and Europe looking for a better future, but He is also an interesting personage.
    I have to write down some notes of my first listen, starting with the photo of the header, which I think is the image of Kanté Manfila, not of the artist that occupies us, also that in the tracks there is a strange error, the numbering in the name of file and in title do not correspond, starting with track 7, the title indicates track 8, and so on.Finally comment that track 08 Track9 ;) corresponds to a version of the song N'Badenw (The family), where he talks about the hardness of emigration, with a letter that an emigrant sends his parents with money to help the family, I really prefer this version without harmonica, an instrument that I do not appreciate at all.
    Here you have the video of N 'Badenw

    1. Hi Ngoni, thanks, as always, for your helpful comments. You are right. The picture was of Kante Manfila. I have changed it. I had taken the picture off the jacket cover of the 45rpm single that featured Soumaoro's two songs with the Ambassadeurs. Thanks also for your help organizing the tracks! I just have a cassette copy that has none of the tracks listed. I tried to identify some of them, listening to Soumaoro's later recordings. As I listened I reorganized the tracks and the numbering sequence got screwy. In preparing this post, I went back and listened again to all of Soumaoro's recordings. I hadn't paid much attention to his Sylliphone releases when they first came out. I actually enjoy some of them quite a bit now. I don't have a problem with the harmonica in general. I do, however, have a problem with the harmonica player that, I think, ruined several Malian records in the 1990s. There was a French harmonica player who appeared on a lot of recordings made at Studio Bogolan whose playing I always found distracting.

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  3. Hello there, thank you very much for sharing all these beautiful (especially North/West African) recordings. Just wondering, do you still have access to the music posted on your old Voice of America blog? If so would it be alright to ask if you could share the Sufi tapes from Senegal in full at some point, in particular the Abdou Lah Niang Ndar and/or Sokhna Dieynaba Lam ones? Those are so good and I'd love to hear them in full. Again, thank you for all you do and best regards for the future :)

    1. Hi Tane, thanks for your interest. I am glad that you enjoy the music. Here are links to Abdou Lah Niang Ndar and Sokhna Dieynaba Lam.

      Abdou Lah Niang Ndar will forever remind of Dakar in the early 1990s. I used to hear his recordings everywhere. I love his voice. I have just recently finished digitizing a hundred cassettes of Senegalese Sufi singers. There is some really great stuff. I will post some more stuff in the future. I hope you enjoy these two recordings.

    2. Thank you so much! You have no idea how much this means to me. And you're absolutely right about Niang Ndar's voice - I'm listening to him right now and his cadence is reminding me somewhat of a southern Baptist preacher, although that might just be my mind making conjectures where there aren't any.

  4. What a treasure; thanks so much!


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