Mory Kanté, called the “electric griot” for his fusion of contemporary styles with traditional West African influences, passed away this month at the age of 70 of untreated health problems.
Mr. Kante’s manager, Juan Yriat, said he died in his sleep after experiencing chest pains earlier in the day.
“He suffered from chronic illnesses and often traveled to France for treatment, but that was no longer possible with the lockdown from coronavirus,” said his son Balla Kante. “We saw his condition deteriorate rapidly, but I was still surprised because he’d been through much worse times before.”
Kanté brought Guinean and Mandingo culture to the world. His song “Yeke Yeke,” released in the late ’80s, will sound familiar to Americans. It has been remixed and covered extensively.
An artist with a social conscience, Kanté built an entertainment complex in the village of Nongo, near Conakry, featuring a 1,500-seat auditorium, two sophisticated recording studios and leisure facilities. He spoke out against female genital mutilation, and gave guest lectures at universities around the world, expanding on his interest in the industrialization of culture.
As a solo artist, he released 13 studio albums. The last, N’Diarabi, was released in 2017. In 2014, he recorded Africa Stop Ebola alongside artists including Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keïta and Oumou Sangaré. It sold 250,000 copies, raising money for Doctors without Borders.
Kante came from a “jali” or griot family of hereditary musicians and historians. He was a national hero in his home country of Guinea.
Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour called Kanté “a baobab of African culture”. The president of Guinea, Alpha Condé, said African culture was in mourning and praised Kanté for an exceptional career. Journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo of Uganda wrote: “People like Kanté die, but they never leave us. His hit song Yéké Yéké was European number-one in 1988, and became the first-ever African SINGLE to sell over one million copies there.” (Emphasis by Onyango-Obbo)
From the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization: “We are saddened to hear of the loss of Guinean vocalist & former FAO Goodwill Ambassador (2001-2012) Mory Kanté. “He was an avid advocate of the collective need to mobilize against hunger & poverty.”
“My father was a great personality,” said Balla Kanté in a press interview. “We lost a large library today.”
He is survived by his wife, Sira, and by numerous children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and siblings.
SOURCE: Global Information Network