The acoustic ceiling of Millennium Place will be filled with tribal melodies and the light-spirited dancing of West Africa this weekend. A fixture on the festival circuit, Vancouver-based, Guinea-born Alpha Yaya Diallo has made a career of infusing contemporary West African sound with jazz, blues and funk.
"Basically I'm influenced by different artists, different guitar players from around the world and I grew up listening to people like George Benson, Mark Knopfler, David Lindley...my music is open to that," says the JUNO award-winning musician.
"For the last 10 years I've been touring, working in Canada, the States and Europe so basically I've heard all kinds of music that I've tried to incorporate into my African style."
Diallo is no stranger to Whistler, having played various shows here over the past decade. He laughs at some of the memories that arise when he's asked what the performances were like.
"For small shows I miss that Boot Pub in Whistler, it was a party club, I like that sometimes," he says. "When the shows are small you share more with people, you share beer, they put beer on stage, it's lovely the contact you get with people."
Regardless of the age or demographic, Diallo's performance is crafted to get a response from his audiences. Heavily loaded with percussion, guitar and the occasional African tribal instrument, the Diallo's sound can get even octogenarians onto the dancefloor.
"Our music goes for all ages, I've played some places where people are old, or very young," he says. "I had one man come up to me and say 'You make my grandmother dance, and she's 80!' We see all ages in our shows, absolutely."
Though a seated show at Millennium Place will come off differently than a standing or dancing club show, Diallo says the variance will allow audience members to focus on the composition of the music.
"I always try to communicate with the crowd and also to explain to them what I do, some songs they won't understand the lyrics, they don't speak the language so we take some time to explain a little bit about the history and what the song means, that helps," he says.
Diallo has been playing music since age 11, when he first picked up a guitar and taught himself to strum. Growing up in a number of regions of Guinea, Diallo was exposed to a variety of cultures, absorbing musical traditions from the Malenke, Sousou, and his own Foulani people. Spending time in neighbouring Senegal with his mother's relatives, Diallo picked up the powerful mbalax rhythm, as well as influences from Cape Verde and the Caribbean.
While living in Europe and playing with the band Fatala, he recorded under Peter Gabriel's Real World label before moving to Canada in 1991. He has since shared the stage with musical greats Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear. Diallo was nominated for a JUNO award for his acoustic work on the album Nene and another for his work on Futur - an album filled with electric compositions.
In addition Futur won the Music Africa Award for National Recording of the Year, and the Pacific Music Industry Award for Best World Music Album. Internationally distributed by BMG, Diallo's The Message won a JUNO in 1999 for Best Global Recording. In 2002, The Journey also won a JUNO for Best Global Recording and Best World Independent.
When not playing with solo, Diallo fronts another band, Bafing.