From Africa to the World, Yaya Diallo Unleashes His Music
Yaya Diallo is a master drummer. A native of Mali, West Africa, he is the personification of a country celebrated for its rich musical culture and diversity. Motivated by his personal experiences in traditional village life, Yaya expresses his profound knowledge of West African healing arts in his instrumental album Nangapè, a recording that focuses on West African drumming, balafon and flute music. I particularly enjoyed the flute segments, which provided an alluring and rich atmosphere for the entire session.
Lobi a La Yaya (Nangapè)
During the interview process, I heard entirely different viewpoints from Yaya than I would have received from an artist in the U.S., or any other country for that matter. Initially, I was puzzled by his responses, then after realizing that he is worlds away immersed in music that is so prolifically non-mainstream, it seemed only appropriate that he answered my questions as he did. He knows who he is and had no problem telling me exactly what he felt. I am sure you will come to know the man and his music in a way you could have never imagined after listening to his music and reading the interesting responses he so graciously provided. He fired back his answers to my questions in a very matter of fact way. I obviously touched upon some subjects that he had some strong feelings and opinions about.
Yaya Diallo's albums The Healing Drum, Dounoukan and Dombáa Folee offers the worldly open-minded listeners ceremonial, ritual and Minianka medicine music of Mali. Diallo's manager Stephen Conroy commented that the forthcoming album Live at Club Soda (recorded in performance with his band Kanza) takes a dramatic shift as Yaya bridges traditional music with Occidental sounds including saxophone, electric violin, bass and lead guitars and drum set, as well as voice and traditional African drums.
Samba the Trucker (Live at Club Soda)
His innovative music gives solo voice to all the instruments within an African rhythmic structure and swings with a sound reminiscent of 1950's rock 'n' roll and blues to a beat driven and spoken to by the Dounouba and Djembe drums. I have to agree, it is one of the more unique and original sounds that I have ever heard. It sounds like world-jazz meets the blues; it is truly an amazing amalgamation of sound and culture.
Following graduation from the University of Montreal and a brief career as a chemist, Yaya was co-founder of the music and dance groups Djembe-Kan and Cléba and a member of the African Troubadours with the World Music Institute as well as a faculty member of the Creative Music Studio and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies of New York. He is currently active with his band Kanza and continues to teach and perform internationally. Goals include the creation of traditional African healing centers.
Do you feel your music brings you closer to your higher power? Do you feel the music breathes the life of your upbringing and culture so other people can understand who you are?
[Yaya Diallo] What do you mean by higher power? I came back to play music because something was missing in my life. I play because I love it. I did not do that for fame and I think I am myself now, and that is enough. When I came back to music, I did not think about culture. People said that is your African music; that is your culture. I did not know I was carrying Africa on my back. I did not want to be an ambassador. I played what I knew."
What is your goal when you create music, what do you hope to accomplish from a performance?
[Yaya Diallo] When I sit down and an idea comes to me, I do not have expectations. When I was young and I saw people coming from forty villages every Friday to play for my grandfather who was the canton chief of Zangasso, I thought one day I will come with my own band to impress my grandfather and to be part of the celebrations. It did not happen. My grandfather died and I did not play. It was a kind of frustration.
When I play a performance, I try to be myself. I talk to people; I make jokes. Sometimes I care too much about the audience. When you play, you think maybe they will be bored. You come to party and you want the party to be good, you forget the order of the songs. People do not come to see my face only. They come to get something. That is my responsibility to make the party happen. That is why sometimes I care too much. Inside you say, now what can I do. I cannot sit down and follow one plan. I can change the order of the songs. You have to find the magic formula for people. When you play something and people do not react, you have to change something to find someway to put people in the party.
Do you think World music has received more attention and respect due to the Internet?
[Yaya Diallo] When you use common sense, you say World music is more popular because of the Internet. For me, Internet or not, it does not matter. Music is subjective. That is your choice. You do not listen to World music because you get it free on the Internet. People are not looking for something they do not know and the fact you give them World music by Internet does not mean they will listen to it. You will not change your taste for music because you get it free. When you are a Rastafarian the first music you look for on the internet is Reggae. Do you think they look for what is happening in India? When you are punk you are looking for punk music; you will not look for didgeridoo music. They do not care about didgeridoo music.
Sewa Nimo (Live at Club Soda)
How do you plan to get the word out about your music on a "World" level?
[Yaya Diallo] To be on a World level it is some kind of luck. I know some people who said, "I don't want to do commercial music. That is too commercial for me." I found out they cannot do it. To be recognized at the world level, that is a kind of lottery. You do one song, people love it, and you get (a kind of) prizes. You can get money quick, you can get a name quick, and people can forget you quick.
A good example is, "Who Let The Dogs Out." Quick they come and now we forget about it. Moreover, you come up quick and the faster you fall down; sometimes it is really painful. One more thing I tell young musicians, "When some people love your music, be happy. Do not try to get 100% of human beings to love your music. We have 6 billion people. Are you ready to get 6 billion people to love you? Even about God, they are fighting who is right and who is wrong. Do you think you will come and everyone will love you? Nobody gets 1% of humanity, 60 million you can hear about but 600 million? ... nobody needs that."
Sometimes people know your music and they do not know you. Everybody goes dancing to "Feeling Hot Hot Hot, Olay Olay" but ask them who is singing that and they do not know and they do not care. They come to dance. They come to party. Your music is more important than you.
I do what I have to do and you cannot control the fame or the money. If people like it, fine. Who wants to be poor? Nobody. If it was easy, you could sit down, write one good song right now, go to the bank and borrow money. If I go to the bank today and I say, "give me $10,000, I'm writing a song and I'll be a millionaire," do you think they will give you money? I will be lucky if they do not send me to see the psychiatrist.
Do you feel all of your life experiences are the main motivation behind the music you create?
[Yaya Diallo] No. My motivation in life is to be a good human being, a good brother, son, husband, father, grandfather, not to give trouble to people, and music can help me to achieve my goal. Music is only the tool. Music can help me to reach my goal to get my balance in life.
To be a good human being is to take care of your duties and to assume your responsibilities as a human being of the planet. You need to respect yourself, nature, and the life of others and to be tolerant, that is enough. You have to be humble. The fact that you play good music is not enough to be God. You do not play music to be a star. You do music for people, not to be God for people.
When you pay one ticket on a bus and you put your bag on the next seat and someone asks if they can they sit next to you... What is your education? You pay for one ticket. You don't know what to do as an adult? You see the elder coming and you do not move. You educate the children. What kind of values do you have?
It is obvious to me that there is much more to Yaya Diallo than his music. He is a very spiritual man that has the gift of music in his heart. I am so glad he found his path and now shares the beauty of his soul through his music. I am a better person today for listening to his music and having the opportunity to understand how he feels about his art and the world around him.