Alpha Diallo--home is where the music is.

Author:Ditmars, Hadani
Position:THE ARTS: MUSIC - Interview

Guinean Alpha Yaya DiaWo (below) is at the forefront of contemporary music and is ranked among other West Mncan luminaries like Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Youssou N'Dour, and Ismael Lo. But for over twenty years, he has been based in Vancouver, Canada where he is flying the Wag for Mncan music \N\th great success. Hadani Ditmars went to meet him.

Alpha Yaya Diallo's music incorporates hypnotic beats, sensual Senegalese-style mbalax rhythms, elements of Cape Verdian morna and soaring Guinean melodies, but at the root of it all is Diallo's unique take on the African guitar --first brought to the continent by Portuguese sailors.

Diallo has made it his own, incorporating styles and influences from flamenco to jazz to traditional African instruments. His inventive transposition of kora, balafon and African percussion to both acoustic and electric guitar make his music stand apart.

And yet, since 1991--he's called Vancouver, Canada home.

What drew him to this Pacific coastal idyll--known more for its outdoors culture and huge Chinese population than African culture?

Fresh from a jam with his band Bafing and Kinshasa-based Mbongwana Star at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, I sit down with Diallo for a chat about his life and his music.

As bagpipes bleed into the background from a nearby stage, the gorgeous Pacific backdrop of ocean and mountains seems about as far away from Guinea as one could imagine.

But on a cross-Canadian tour in 1991, after being signed by Peter Gabriel's Real World label in 1989, "I fell in love with the city," Diallo says. "It's a magical place. I decided to stay here and I've been based here ever since."

Besides the attraction of the natural beauty of the mountains and the water, Diallo says, "I got a lot of support from people here when I decided to stay. There weren't many African musicians here then--only a few drummers. It was hard to put a band together but I managed."

While the African community is growing in Vancouver, it's tiny compared to those of Montreal and Toronto, and in 1991 it was miniscule. In spite of a black history in the city--the community of Hogan's Alley near Chinatown, where Jimi Hendrix once lived, was destroyed in the late 60s when it was bulldozed to build a new freeway--there's a very small black population compared with nearby Seattle (Hendrix's hometown) and recent African immigrants have chosen Eastern Canada over the Pacific Rim.

Putting down new roots

But Diallo, who grew up listening to...

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