‘Diré’, Idrissa Soumaoro new album, comes as a surprise to Malian and international audiences. Composer,
singer, guitarist and master of the kamalen n’goni Idrissa Soumaoro presents here a beautiful collection
of songs on his third album, Diré, named in honor of the town where he met his wife and where his first
daughter, who is no longer with us, was born.
In 1971, after his studies at the INA in Bamako, Idrissa was transferred to Diré to teach music at the lPEG
(Pedagogical Institute of General Education). He was 22 years old when he arrived in Diré. Idrissa has
always been nostalgic for this beautiful place in the 333 Saints of Timbuktu region. As Idrissa sings in
‘Diré taga’ (Going to Diré), the track that opens the album, the city evokes deep emotions for the artist, as
if it were a long-lost friend or lover. Celebrating the memory of the city of Diré leads the artist to retrace
stories and lived situations that marked and animated him in years gone by: ‘I really miss the people, the
colleagues, the friends and that period. Despite the time that has flown by, I would ardently wish to see
Diré again’. Today, at the difficult time Mali is experiencing, remembering the city of Diré in the 1970s also means for the artist not giving up hope for peace: ‘The memory of Diré, a beautiful town in northern
Mali, strengthens my hope for peace, union and real independence for the happiness of my people’; as
he sings in ‘Sababou’, ‘Without hope, there is no life. Together we will succeed’.
The ten highly original compositions of the album are strongly based upon traditional music of Mali,
but Idrissa’s life experiences, travels, education, collaborations and personal musical career have led
him to compose and perform music with other influences. As Idrissa quotes: ‘My inspiration generally
comes from the donso n’goni, a Bambara instrument played by and for hunters throughout Mali. This is a
pentatonic instrument, similar to the blues exported to the USA by black African slaves. I’ve also spent so
much time playing a variety of music that my music also reflects rumba, salsa (as well as Bamanan blues
and a few derivatives: jazz, country, soul, rhythm and blues) etc. I have looked for and hope to have
found my own form of expression from these influences’.
Throughout the album, his strong, clear voice sings in French, Bambara and English. It rides seamlessly
upon a complex rhythmic sea of distinctly West African stringed instrumentation and percussion with
accents of flute and balafon. There are keyboards in a few songs, but these, happily, do not dominate the
music as we hear so often in today’s music. This album presents the music of a mature artist who has ‘been
there, done that’ and returned to celebrate his country, his roots and his dreams in a flawlessly produced
collection of songs of love, reassurance, fatherly advice and hope.
The album already has a long history: it was initiated in 2012 by Marc-Antoine ‘Marko’ Moreau, former
producer and manager of Amadou and Mariam. Moreau had plans to produce the album and invited
Idrissa Soumaoro to start recording in Manjul’s studio in Bamako. When Moreau suddenly passed away,
work on the album was still missing. The pandemic still added time for the production to continue.
With the help of Climax Orchestra, arrangements and orchestrations were finalized in France. At the
artist’s behest, ‘Diré’ will finally be presented to the public by Mieruba, the independent label based in Ségou, the home of the blues in Mali. ‘Let’s stand together so that Mali can flourish’: from conception to
production and distribution, this is the message that ‘Diré’ carries.
About Idrissa Soumaoro:
Idrissa Soumaoro was born in 1949 in Ouéléssébougou, a small town 75 km south of Bamako in Mali.
His brother-in-law, with whom he discovered his first modern guitar, was the headmaster of the primary
schools he attended. Little Idrissa fell in admiration of the qualities of this outstanding teacher, who would
influence his professional future. During his school holidays in Bamako, Idrissa would wander around
with his friends in lively places like the bus station and the area around the cinema. Enthralled by this
urban hustle and bustle, the young rural boy discovered and was charmed by instruments such as the
harmonica, the flute and the timbo. Back in the village after his holidays, he borrowed his brother-in-
law’s guitar and tuned it to the sound of the n’goni. Between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, while he
was preparing for his basic school-leaving certificate, Idrissa formed his first group, Djitoumou-Jazz de
Ouéléssédougou, and every Saturday night he played at the local dust ball, which soon became the main
event for the whole region.
In 1968 he entered the Institut National des Arts in Bamako and during his studies he recorded songs for
ORTM Télévision nationale. It was during this period that he wrote his song ‘Ancien combattant’, which
was later covered by the Congolese artist Zao. After graduating from the National Arts Institute in Bamako,
he became a teacher in Diré, then in Bamako. A teacher by day and an artist by night, Idrissa continued
to perform on various music stages, eventually joining the Ambassadeurs du Motel alongside Salif Keïta
and Kanté Manfila, and befriending the blind Amadou Bakayoko. In 1978, following the break-up of the
legendary Bamako band, he asked to be seconded to the Ministry of Health, with the idea of going with Amadou Bakayoko to provide musical support for students at the Institut National des Aveugles in Bamako
and to raise public awareness of the need to empower the visually impaired. In the early 1980s, he set
up an orchestra called ‘Eclipse’ because the group was made up of sighted and blind people (like light
and darkness, like the duality that makes up the world). In 1983-84, the sighted members left the group
and it took the name ‘Miriya’ (thought in Bambara): the place was left exclusively to blind musicians and
singers led by Amadou and Mariam as lead singer. In 1984, thanks to this initiative, he was awarded a
scholarship to study Braille musicography at Birmingham University.
When Idrissa Soumaoro returned to his native Mali in 1987, in addition to his university degrees, he
had the Elisabeth Williams Prize from the Royal National College and Academy of Music for the Visually
Impaired in Hereford in his briefcase. He held various positions of responsibility before being appointed
Inspector General of Music at the Ministry of Education in 1996, a post he held until his retirement in
In 2003, after 34 years in the music world, he released ‘Koté’, a 14-track album produced by Syllart
Productions, Idrissa’s first real commercially released work. In 2010, he released another album,
‘Djitoumou’, featuring the track ‘Bèrèbèrè’ with Ali Farka Touré, a song that became famous as part
of the soundtrack to the film Black Panther. ‘Diré’, his third album, comes as a surprise to Malian and
international audiences, who will not be disappointed by the quality of the work. Today more than ever,
his lyrics, which dream of a fair world and a society based on solidarity and use humor to paint a picture
of society, need to resonate throughout the world.