Soungalo Coulibaly was born in 1955 in Beleko, Mali (a village in the Baninko region, 100km from Segou), so Soungalo was brought up in the purest bambara tradition and was initiated into the secret societies of his people. his father was head of the village. Soungalo gained his musical experience at a very early age playing bara and sabani (goblet drum played with hand and stick) at village celebrations and accompanying farmers in the fields.
One day in Dioia (a village near Sikasso) during a wedding celebration, he heard the djembe for the first time. He was invited by the master djembefola and he listened and later repeated the two rhythms he had heard, Maraka and Suku, on his sabani using djembe technique. He was invited by the young men and women to play and received some compensation. It was then that he bought his first djembe. After his mother fell ill she had to be hospitalized in Fana (in the Koulikoro region) and Soungalo cared for her and played with the local djembefolas to pay the expenses.
Realising that djembe can be a profession and becoming so fascinated with it, he later left for Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire, where he began accompanying the master djembefolas at every celebration and earned a reputation for remarkable musicality and the ability to adapt to every style. Bouake represents a cultural crossroads of music from Ivory Coast, Guinea and Burkina Faso. It was there that Soungalo invented “Flez” music – a fusion of djembe, dunun, tama, djidunun, balafon, kamelengoni, acoustic guitar, karinyan and song. Flez music draws on the repertoires of the Bambara, Malinke, Fulbe and Wasulunka traditions.
His fame led him to pursue travel in Europe where he became renowned and formed a group with French musician Vincent Zanetti and the amazing, deep earthy singer Mariam Doumbia-Diakite.
In 2004 Soungalo and his group went on a European our and recorded a live DVD performance and CD in Switzerland. Sadly, at the end of this tour Soungalo became very sick and cancer was diagnosed. He died only a couple of months later, on March 9, 2004.
Soungalo is considered one of the greatest masters of the djembe. Soungalo’s story is unique because he was self taught on the djembe and possessed a rare musicality that allowed him to stand out and be instantly appreciated.
1988 – “Naya!” (Cassette)
1992 – “Laila ilala” (CD)
2001 – “Dengo” (CD)
1999 – “Sankan Wulila” (CD)
2002 – “L’Art du Djembe” (CD)
2004 – “Live” (CD, DVD)