- I Wish You Were Here
Alpha Blondy (born Seydou Koné; 1 January 1953 in Dimbokro, Côte d’Ivoire) is a reggae singer and international recording artist. Many of his songs are politically motivated, and are mainly sung in his native language of Dioula, French and in English, though he occasionally uses other languages, for example, Arabic or Hebrew.
First son of a family of 8 children, Seydou Koné was raised by his grandmother, growing up in what he described as “among elders”, which later was to have a big impact on his career. In 1962, Alpha Blondy went to join his father in Odienné, where he spent ten years, attended Sainte Elisabeth High School, and was involved in the Côte d’Ivoire students movement.
In high school, he formed a band, but this hobby affected his schooling and he was expelled due to poor attendance. His parents then sent him to study English in Monrovia in the neighboring country of Liberia in 1973. He spent thirteen months there and then moved to the United States of America to improve his English.
In 1974, Seydou moved to New York where he majored in English at Hunter College, and later in the Columbia University American Language Program because he wanted to be a teacher. In New York he met Rastafarians for the first time, and was also able to see concerts by Jamaican artists such as Burning Spear.
Seydou was involved in multiple altercations in New York and returned to the Côte d’Ivoire, where he got into even more trouble until he met up with one of his childhood friends, Fulgence Kassi, who had become a noted television producer. This was the beginning of his real career as a musician, and he began to use the name “Alpha Blondy”.
After various TV shows for Kassi, Blondy recorded his first solo album in 1982, entitled Jah Glory. This album was to have enormous success and would become later a symbol of resistance because of the song “Brigadier Sabari,” which documents his experience of being arrested in Abidjan in the 1980s and his subsequent mistreatment by the police. Alpha Blondy became a big star in Abidjan with his own African twist of Reggae music, becoming in the eyes of his fans “the Bob Marley of Africa”. Alpha Blondy is spiritual, political and positive just like Marley himself, and even recorded a cover of Bob Marley’s song “War“. In order to reach more people with his message, he chose to sing in many languages: English, French, Baoulé, and his native language – Dioula. Later, he also brought new instrumentation to his brand of reggae such as the violin and cello.
Soon, the fame of Alpha Blondy spread to Europe. Following the success of an EP entitled Rasta Poué, he went to Paris in 1984 to make his second album, Cocody Rock, with the label Pathe Marconi. The “Bob Marley of Africa” travelled to the island of Jamaica and recorded the title track of this album with Marley’s backing group, The Wailers.
Back home in 1985, Blondy went into the studio to record “Apartheid is Nazism“, a call for the end of Apartheid. In 1986, he recorded “Jerusalem” at the Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica, again with The Wailers featuring Bob Marley’s legendary Aston “Family Man” Barrett. Blondy tried to promote unity between the religion of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He drew his arguments and inspiration from his own diverse knowledge of the Bible, the Quran, and the Torah. That same year, he sang in Hebrew during a concert in Morocco. At this point, he was touring continuously. His new album Revolution had a lighter, gentler sound; this was the album with cellos in the instrumentation, and the line-up included veteran Côte d’Ivoirian singer Aicha Kone. The album also included “Jah Houphouët parle”, a long speech by Côte d’Ivoire president Félix Houphouët-Boigny with only the most minimal beat behind it.
Blondy spent the years 1987–89 giving concerts and recording SOS Guerre Tribale in Abidjan. This was promoted by Blondy himself, as he was distancing himself from Pathe Marconi at this stage. This was not to be a real success but it did not deter Blondy and in 1991 he returned to Europe for a concert tour and to record his famous album Masada with the help of musical legends such as Bocana Maiga and UK reggae producer Dennis Bovell. The album, with its hit single “Rendez Vous”, was a huge success, and Blondy was later to receive his first Gold Disc in Paris.
At the beginning of 1993, worn out from a world tour, Blondy succumbed to depression and was taken into an institution for psychiatric help. But as his health recovered he recorded the album Dieu (“God”), on which he appears more spiritual and religious, on tracks such as “Heal Me”, about his illness and recovery.
Blondy’s psychiatric treatment continued but on 10 December 1994, he was back with the festival in memory of President Houphouet, and later he made his European comeback at a storming concert at Le Zenith in Paris. In 1996, Blondy released a hits compilation and went back into the studio to record the album Grand Bassam Zion, singing in six languages: Malinke, Arabic, French, English, Ashanti and Wolof.
After two more years in Paris, Blondy returned to his homeland in 1998, with an album, The Prophet.