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DIAMANKA Souleymane


L’Hiver Peul (Barclay, 2007)

(Loosely translated)
My name is Souleymane Diamanka also known as Duajaabi Jeneba
The son of Boubacar Diamanka also known as Kanta Lombi
Grandson of Maakaly Diamanka also known as Mamadou Tenen(g)
Great-grandson of Demba Diamanka also known as Len(g)el Nyaama
Et cætera et cætera…

(L’hiver Peul)

His is a deep majestic voice. It echoes another more distant voice, and it responds to the words of his ancestors. In telling his genealogy, Souleymane Diamanka follows a rich oral tradition that of the Fula who are pastoralist nomads and have a highly developed oral culture. They come from nowhere and everywhere – they are sometimes dubbed the gypsies of the Sahel – and are very widespread from Western Africa to the West and now Europe. Chance has brought the Diamanka clan to Bordeaux, la Clairière des Aubiers, a housing development built near the city a few years before, a real tower of Babel resonating with a thousand voices, one of those so-called underprivileged neighbourhoods where cultural variety is not just a myth. Near those buildings, many languages are heard, French, but also Algerian, Portuguese, Vietnamese or Turkish. But at home, only Fulbe was spoken so that the very rich oral culture could be transmitted down the generations and not be lost in the new country. Diamanka’s father took special care, making tapes of interviews for the younger generations. It is his voice that can be heard on the recording of “l’Hiver peul”, where he tells the story of his childhood in the old country, talks about the traditional organisation of their society and the history of the Fula through various tales, poems and proverbs.

(Loosely translated)
They show us the violence of the young people in the infested streets
But I know that hatred is but an infected sadness
No one is a poet in his country and yet
I have seen those who sweat and bleed
Become those who know how to use healing words

(Le Chagrin Des Anges)

When he was in third grade, Souleymane’s teacher decided he would make the children write their own poems rather than making them memorize any. His only instruction to the pupils was to explain that poetry was the art of putting knots in sentences and letting the reader/listener untie them. To this day, Diamanka has never forgotten that piece of advice. It was enough to inoculate in him the desire to write. Yet, he was not writing at the time, only accumulating thousands of words in his memory. He followed his older sister’s example and started telling stories he would invent as he went along. Strangely enough, it was dance that introduced him to hip-hop. Rap would come later, by chance and he would never experience it as a closed universe, a rigid structure with a need to conform. Anyhow, Souleymane Diamanka started working with musicians from different backgrounds who contributed to a broadening of his horizons. He was no longer creating rap, but it wasn’t yet slam either, more a hybrid style, at the crossroads between the two. In 1994, he created his first text in a studio and dropped out of school. He started working with words, changing them, twisting them around, upside down and inside out in order to better use them. He worked assiduously at improving his style, hunted for any similarities between Fulbe and French, worked on rhetoric and assonance as well as various types of rhymes before he had ever even heard of them. Always looking for a challenge, he even composed alexandrine verses in Fulbe and tried to write the longest palindrome in the French language. He was all the while obsessed with one thing and that was to develop his originality. He wanted to arrive at a language that would be as rich and colourful as the original language, that of his father and the griots of the old country.

(Loosely translated)
I have waited a long time to see the void move
For each word to find its rightful sentence and each sentence its rightful rhyme
The country of dreams is behind a large hill
And reality for me is a trampoline I use to write with my quill

(Moment d’Humanité)

As an antidote to his rising self-doubts, he made several trips to the capital where people seemed to welcome his style more warmly. He eventually settled there the better to realize his dreams. And that’s when he met up with old friends from the South, the Nubians that he’d met a few years earlier at the ‘Nouveaux Griots’, an association to promote urban and mixed cultures. At the time, the two sisters often accompanied him on stage. In exchange, he’d written the lyrics to one of their most seminal songs, “ Princesse Nubienne ”. A few years later, he followed suit with the sublime “ Que Le Mot Soit Perle ”which the Nubians recorded twice, the second time with Henri Salvador who had been completely bowled over by the song. In 1999, they invited him to take part in “ Echos ”, a show organised with several American and French poets. This marked Diamanka’s first meeting with John Banzaï. They compared notes and Diamanka quickly came to the realization that he’d found the elusive kindred spirit, another versifier who liked nothing better than to search through his ancestor’s language (Polish in Banzai’s case) the better to mine real gems to be used in French. Together, they worked at merging their separate experiences and discovering new forms of expression. They created a show with DJ Wamba, “ Le Meilleur Ami Des Mots ”. They went to see all the slam they could in Paris and the suburbs and took part in the “ Slam Opéra ” show and cooperated with the Nubians, Bams and Puzzle on their albums. And they wrote a book together, “ J’écris En Français Dans Une Langue Etrangère ”.

(Loosely translated)
Like a sentimental flower that would have learned how to fly by beating its petals
The paper butterfly makes its way from the dead horizon to its native star
Even if I created it with my pen
If you liked it and it made you happy
It’s no longer my poem

(Papillon En Papier)

And at the same time, Souleymane Diamanka started working with Woodini, a musical creator he met at a concert. He would drop in to see him regularly and would leave a cappella lyrics, which Wood would put to music any way he liked and his music was always illustrative but never neutral. It was pared down to the bare essentials, made to underscore Souleymane Diamanka’s lyrics and not overwhelm them, so that once out of his mouth the lyrics would become the paper butterflies of the song and remain in the listener’s imagination. These works were all enhanced in the studio through the great skills of the Anakroniq label with their usual musicians, Eric Legnini and André Céccarelli and with the participation of such artists as Grand Corps Malade, Kayna Samet and John Banzaï to create an extraordinarily rich and colourful sound. This is a very unusual album, it starts with Jazz but quickly moves on to Soul, classical or variety, traditional music or pop, there are a few guitar chords against a delicate backdrop of percussions with a crisscrossing of wind and dreamy woodwind instruments as in “ Les poètes Se Cachent Pour Ecrire ”. Then one hears groove with an African influence with the flamboyant brass in “ Le Rêve Errant Du Révérend ”, followed by the acoustic piano of S Petit Nico for “ Muse Amoureuse ”. And through it all, Diamanka’s deep, profound voice amazes. His voice is full of sweat and blood, he knows how to use it to caress and how to shock, when to challenge or awaken passions, or when to perturb the listener. The words come out of his mouth as though in conversation, as though he were speaking to his listeners one on one. He enunciates, detaches his syllables, insisting here or there, slowly so that all his listeners understand their depth.

(Loosely translated)
Words clothe emotions
But even if our pens dress our sentences well
Can they save our brothers from the wreck

(Les Poètes Se Cachent Pour Ecrire)

The great griot Sana Seydi made no mistake about it when he agreed to participate in “ Moment d’Humanité ”. It was an extraordinary decision for this great man much respected by the Fula of Fouladou, the region of Senegal which is the birthplace of Souleymane’s family and who had never before exercised his art outside of his community environment. Following the recording session, Sana Seydi stated that trying to do away with the art of public speaking is like trying to bury a shadow, as though trying to explain that by using the language of Beaudelaire to express the oratory art of the Fula (Jaliya), Souleymane had pushed back the borders of the Fouladou. It is hard not to perceive there a transmission of the torch to the future generations between one of the last representatives of an ancestral tradition and his heir in the forest of cement baobabs. One thing is sure, this is a voice that will keep on resonating for a long time …

Discography :

  • L’Hiver Peul (Barclay, 2007)

Ecrire à voix haute : Rencontre entre un poète et un linguiste autour de la poésie orale d’aujourd’hui

L’Harmattan - 2012

Parmi les slameurs d’aujourd’hui, Souleymane Diamanka se distingue par la vibration de son timbre, la richesse de ses rimes et la force de ses images. Entre la lyrique des griots d’Afrique de l’Ouest et une esthétique poétique française, son spoken word marque l’auditeur. Julien Barret, spécialiste du rap et du slam, propose un éclairage poétique sur le travail de Souleymane Diamanka. Il dévoile les ressorts d’une esthétique qui voisine avec celle des troubadours, des poètes romantiques ou de l’OuLiPo.

L’Hiver peul

Label Barclay - 2007


J’écris en Français Dans une Langue Etrangère

Complicités - 2007

Ils n’ont pas écrit ces textes pour publier un livre. Ils ont écrit ces textes pour les dire à voix haute devant un public. Leurs univers se composent de mots et de musiques. Ce livre est "un bijou" à offrir aux amoureux de la poésie, du slam, des mots de la langue française.

En guise d'au revoir

En guise d’au revoir

Les cafés littéraires en vidéo
Saint-Malo 2010
En guise d au revoir

Une vidéo réalisée par Cap7Média.


Les cafés littéraires en vidéo
Souleymane DIAMANKA, LYOR, NEOBLED, ROUDA, Insa SANE - Saint-Malo 2007

Rencontre avec le réalisateur Cédric Ido

Saint-Malo 2011

A propos de son film "Les Sabres", en présence de Jacky Ido et Souleymane Diamanka. Rencontre animée par Emmanuelle Dancourt.


Saint-Malo 2011

Avec Souleymane DIAMANKA , Alain MABANCKOU, Roland COLIN, Souleymane Bachir DIAGNE, Emmanuelle VILLARD. Animé par Emmanuelle Dancourt.

Le retour de la rime

Saint-Malo 2011

Avec Jacques Darras, Julien Barret, Jean-Pierre Verheggen, Souleymane Diamanka

La rime dans tous ses états

Saint-Malo 2011

Avant d’être entendus, les mots créent souvent des malentendus. Le mot poème est de ceux-ci. Le poème est-il seulement le texte ? Y a-t-il un avant poème ? Au commencement était le verbe, mais au commencement du commencement ? Est-ce le regard, la respiration ? Est-ce l’oreille ou la main qui écrit ? Le poème est-il seulement dans le poème ? Qu’en est-il alors du slam, de la chanson, du théâtre, du conte, du roman ? Il y a les vers de Jean-Pierre Siméon qui célèbrent Orphée, notre père à tous, les pirouettes de Jean-Pierre Verheggen qui, l’air de rien, en disent long. Il y a les strophes de Jacques Darras qui, à marche forcée, trouvent leur équilibre, les chansons d’Elie Guillou qui jouent sur le fil de sa voix. II y a le rap d’Amkoullel, les fantaisies de Rouda qui croisent la gravité de Souleymane Diamanka dont la gorge s’est forgée aux proverbes de son père. Il y a aussi Wilfried N’sondé et Yvon Le Men qui ont toujours mélangé la parole et l’écriture. Il y a toutes ces voix qui cherchent leur voie.

Avec ROUDA, Wilfried N’SONDE, Souleymane DIAMANKA, Jean-Pierre VERHEGGEN, Yvon LE MEN, AMKOULLEL, Jean-Pierre SIMEON, Elie GUILLOU, animé par Jacques Darras

Si t’as le flow, t’as le mot !

Saint-Malo 2008