Music from Burkina Faso

Posted January 7th, 2008 at 11:36 pm (UTC-4)

Today I’m going to take you back to the 1960s (and early 1970s) with some great music from Burkina Faso.


Let’s start with L’Harmonie Voltaique, the group that was founded by Antoine Ouedraogo in 1948. They were the first group created to play ‘modern music’ in what was then the French West African colony of Upper-Volta. In early 1948 Antoine Ouedraogo was working for the French colonial administration in Mali (which at the time was called the French Sudan). That spring he returned to Upper-Volta and, tired of having to bring groups from the Cote D’Ivoire whenever he wanted to organize a ‘soiree-dansante’, Antoine decided to create the colony’s first modern orchestra. The group was officially born, with the approval of the Colonial Governor of Upper-Volta, on April 8, 1948. Their early repertoire consisted of French Songs (especially the ballads of French crooner Tino Rossi), and latin rhythms (for e.g. the cha-cha, and bolero). The repertoire started to change in 1964 when the multi-instrumentalist Maurice Sempore (tenor sax, flute) became the bandleader. It was under his leadership that the group started to perform songs in ‘Moore’ (the language of the Mossi people).

Although recorded in 1970, these next two tracks give some idea of their earlier repertoire. The first track ‘Killa Naa Naa Ye Killa’ is an instrumental, composed by Maurice Sempore. The group categorizes this song as ‘Jazz’. The title refers to an onomatopoeic phrase in Moore that is taught to children to help them with their pronunciation- the equivalent of ‘sally sells seashells by the seashore’. The B-side of the 45 is a Bolero-Cha-Cha that was also composed by Maurice Sempore. It is the story of Therese Baba, a young woman whose parents were very strict. They did all they could to prevent Therese from going out at night to dance, but even though she never left the house, they could not prevent her from getting pregnant.

In the late 1960s Maurice Sempore started to change L’Harmonie Voltaique’s repertoire. He started to write modern arrangements of traditional rhythms.The A-side of this next 45 is a good example.

In ‘Biig be Noore’, which is built on the Wissé rhythm of the Mossi (from Koudougou in the center of the country), Maurice Sempore sings the story of a boy who travels with his father and embarrasses him by talking too much. The B-side, composed by Henri Tapsoba, is a lament for a friend who has passed away.

Next up is the Volta Jazz a group that came together in 1964 in Bobo-Dioulasso, in the Western part of the country. The group was led by the guitar player Kone Idrissa and in 1967 they won the ‘Premier Grand Prix du Premier Cercle d’Activites Literaires et Artistique de Haute-Volta’- which was the country’s most prestigious cultural award. We have got a couple of their 45s in the archives.

The song ‘Fintalabo’ was composed by Kone Idrissa, and is sung in the Djula language. The refrain goes ‘Power is not enough for you, Kings of Kings, you are never satisfied’.

One of my favorite Volta Jazz tracks is ‘Mama Soukous’. I assume that the title refers to the Congolese Soukous rhythm/dance that was popular in the late 1960s. The music, however, doesn’t sound much like Congolese Soukous. The track starts with a verse by singer Sanon Seydou and then is pretty much a rave-up featuring the raucous guitar playing of Dieudonne Koudougou.

This last track from Burkina features another group from Bobo-Dioulasso. This is Coulibaly Tidiane l’International Dieliba and the Orchestre Dafra Star, a group that was formed in 1975 and included several former members of the Volta Jazz (Dieudonne Koudougou, and singer Siaka Ouattara Elvis).

This track “Bombossi” is built around the balafon (wood-key xylophone) playing of Drissa Diabate Tchai and Mama Kone.

Hope you enjoyed the music… if so, stay tuned, I’ll be pulling out more forgotten 45s in the weeks to come.

24 responses to “Music from Burkina Faso”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for the great music. I realise that perhaps this not really within your range of interests but I am trying to find a way to get Burkinabe hip hop. Do you have any recomendations where I might be able to order such a thing. I’m in Brooklyn NY and have yet to find any leads. Thanks so much.

  2. Anonymous says:

    WoW! Thank you Matthew (and Matthew T) .. this is just amazing
    .. I only hope that VoA will be persuaded to publish these and
    upcoming gems … or at least enable someone else to publish them
    to the benefit of the artists and us the appreciative public.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Matthew

    Thanks for posting these musicclips from Burkina Faso. I do have
    one lp by Volta Jazz which I will never part with, I have been looking
    for other records by them but never found any. Hopefully one day
    these old recording will be rereleased on cd.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you all for your encouraging comments. I would love to see reissues of the great 1970s groups from Burkina. Last fall when I was in
    Ouagadougou I heard a cd of great 1960s/1970s tracks that was compiled by Boureima Djiga and released by the Ministry of Culture. Unfortunately it is out of print and I still haven’t been able to get a copy.
    Can anyone confirm whether Cheikh Lo did in fact perform with the Volta Jazz in the 1970s?

    Pol Sapene, I did, however, pick up quite a bit of Burkinabe Hip-Hop in Ouaga. Unfortunately, most of this music doesn’t seem to be
    available in the US (or even in Paris). I have looked far and wide in NYC, DC, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. A lot of the cassettes are distributed by Seydoni productions in Ouaga. I’ll try and get you their phone number. If you contact them they might sell directly to you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great stuff Matthew. Is there anyway you could put the tracks into a monthly podcast that could be downloaded? I would like to listen away from the computer?
    All the best

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hello Matt,

    Thanks for your encouragement. A monthly podcast is a very good idea.
    I’ll say if we can make that happen.
    best matthew

  7. Anonymous says:

    These are all just great, it’s incredible what seems to be hidden on the shelves of radio and tv stations around the world. Even YouTube spawns the most incredible clips with African artists from times gone by. There was a time I could listen to music like this Friday evening on mainstream radio stations in Brussels, Belgium. (Radio 21)
    Only try to find stuff like this on CD nowadays. Thanks god there is internet…

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tip, I found Seydoni online but every email I tried sending them bounced back…helas. I keep trying to make friends with some Burkinabe living in NY, no luck so far, just lots of folks from Bamako! Thanks again, and congratulations on the blog, it’s a hit!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Lovely sounds. Thanks for the music.. and great new site.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Matt Y thanks for the encouragement.

    I just got the word (fifteen minutes ago) that Maurice Sempore who was the bandleader of the Harmonie Voltaique passed away last friday in Burkina. He is the gentleman standing in the middle on the second 45. He passed away in the town of Leo and he was buried there the same day. He died during surgery. He was born on June 4, 1940 and lived in Ouagadougou (the capital) until he finished middle school. In high school he decided to become a teacher and was sent to finish his studies in Leo (a town in southern Burkina near the Ghanaian border). He started his first band ‘The Highlife Jazz’ in 1960. Several years later he returned to
    Ouagadougou and in 1964 he formally joined the Harmonie Voltaique. He led the group until 1974 when he left to start the ‘Rourougou band’. The ‘Rourougou band’ did not last long and Maurice soon went into semi-retirement. After the 1983 revolution in Burkina Maurice became the bandleader of a revolutionary youth orchestra. He’s remembered as one of Burkina’s most creative bandleaders and for his many great compositions; especially the hit ‘A Therese Baba’.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I was wondering if anyone cold tell me where i could purchase these albums (from L’Harmonie Voltaique or Volta Jazz). Are there any websites from which i can order them? I would really appreciate that information.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Maurice Sampore nous a quitté (voir website,les titres mis en lignes sont magiques.

  13. Anonymous says:

    A feast for body and soul! A pity this is not available, as far as google knows. Many thanks, Matthew!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Great relics…It’s pleasing to hear heart of the diversity in Africa.
    It’s greatly appreciated and definitely enjoyable music.

    Many thanks

  15. ryan says:

    Thanks for this posting. Gorgeous stuff. Those looking for more music from Burkina Faso/Upper Volta should check out this compilation: “Ouaga Affair: Hard Won Sound Of The Upper Volta 1974 – 1978” Which is available as a CD or a double lp from various online retailers.

  16. Brett Wrape says:

    it is good to see this information in your submit, i was wanting the identical but there was not any correct resource, thanx now i have the link which i was looking for my research.

  17. I got some great ideas from your post and will make use of it. Thanks a lot.

  18. Thity Ouss@ says:

    longtemps j’ai cherché une des chanson de Tidiane Coulibaly et du Dafra star de Bobo Dioulasso…et la je viens d’en trouver une…merci beaucoup

  19. […] Jazz of Burkina Faso. The song entitled Fintalabo and composed by Kone Idrissa was posted to the VOM website by by Mathew Lavoie. The tune begins with a simple guitar statement of the pentatonic […]

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  21. Lilly says:

    I really like the song that goes…….burkina faso ya noma noma fan ya sida faso noma ….. I heard it and it wont stop playing in my head. Please somebody help me. Thanks

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      LOL, Lilly!> Who is the artist? What Style of music is it? Is it current? I’ll help you out if I can … I know the feeling of having a song play over and over in my head 🙂

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      LOL, Lilly!> Who is the artist? What Style of music is it? Is it current? I’ll help you out if I can … I know the feeling of having a song play over and over in my head 🙂



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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