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Mory Kanté (1950–2020), Guinean musician who had an international hit with “Ye Ke Ye Ke”

by Linnea Crowther

Mory Kanté was a Guinean singer and kora player who brought the music of West Africa to the world with his 1987 hit, “Ye Ke Ye Ke.”

Popularizing the rhythms of his culture

Kanté grew up surrounded by music, as the son of two griots – a West African term for a musical storyteller whose craft is passed down through generations. He learned to play the kora, a string instrument made from a large calabash gourd, and he began playing in bands when he was young.  Kanté began a solo career in 1979, adding electronic elements to traditional West African music and electrifying his kora. His catchy music found a place in 1980s dance clubs, and “Ye Ke Ye Ke” soared to the tops of international charts in 1987. The track – an updated version of a traditional Manding harvesting song – made its way to U.S. dance clubs and became the first African single to sell more than a million copies. Kanté continued recording all his life, including participating in the 2014 “Africa Stop Ebola” charity single.

Kanté on how he wanted to be remembered

“As a man of culture, as a citizen of the world who delivers his messages in music, and as a tireless traveller looking to meet and know the people of this world.” —from a 2004 interview with the Guardian 

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What people said about him

Full obituary: The New York Times

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