Mory Kanté: African Music Star Dies Aged 70

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Mory Kanté (March 29, 1950 – May 22, 2020) was an acclaimed Guinean vocalist and player of the kora harp. He was best known internationally for his 1987 hit song Yé ké yé ké, which scored number-one in Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, and Spain. The album ‘Akwaba Beach’, was the best-selling African record of its time.

Kanté died in hospital on Friday in the capital, Conakry, aged 70, as a result of untreated health problems. He suffered from chronic illnesses and often travelled to France for treatment but was unable to with the coronavirus pandemic.

Mory Kanté was born of mixed Malian and Guinean descent, into one of Guinea’s best-known families of griot (hereditary) musicians. After being brought up in the Mandinka griot tradition in Guinea, he was sent to Mali at the age of seven years – where he learned to play the kora, as well as important voice traditions, some of which are necessary to become a riot. As a Muslim, he integrated aspects of Islamic music in his work.

In 1971 Kanté became a member of the Rail Band, in which afro-pop singer-songwriter Salif Keita was a singer. Keïta left the band in 1973, leaving Kanté as the singer.

Nearly a decade after he found international fame with his hit, Kanté’s name was launched into the pop culture sphere yet again in 1994 when the German techno duo Hardfloor created a dance remix of Yé ké yé ké. In 2001, Mory Kanté was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and in 2006, was featured as a vocalist on British DJ Darren Tate’s release, Narama.

In 2014, Kanté banded together with some of Africa’s top musicians – including Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam and the rapper Didier Awadi – to record charity single Africa Stop Ebola. Released in November of that year, it sold 250,000 copies with all proceeds going to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Following the news, fellow musicians flocked to share tributes. Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour wrote on social media, he felt a huge void on learning of Kanté’s death and called the late singer ‘a baobab of African culture’.

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