MUSIC OF SENEGAL


AFRICAN PEARLS
SENEGAL 70: MUSICAL EFFERVESCENCE (Syllart)

It's time for that little game I love to play called reviewing a CD I don't have. It's out in Europe as a two-disc set from Sterns at 15 quid for 26 songs, and this time you can download individual songs for 79 pence (which is currently a bit more than a Yankee greenback). The sound samples on amazon.uk were a bit raunchy so I presume they have not come from an original source, but like the MP3s and some discs I have, were burned from used vinyl. It's a spectrum of 70s Senegalese bands, and the next question is would you rather listen to a whole Baobab or Etoile de Dakar album or do you want them chopped up and rearranged like appetizers on a shiny aluminium platter? I suppose the point is, if there was enough good unreleased material by either Baobab or Etoile de Dakar then a separate disc would be warranted, but this is really just the leftovers.

Star Number One kicks things off with "Faran Tamba"; they also serve us "Senegal Jambar," "Suma Dom ji," "Mory," and "Kery Goro." Their cohorts Star Band de Dakar offer "Guethe," "Gossando," & "Senegambia"; and then there's the star offspring Etoile de Dakar who deliver "Tolou Badou Ndiaye," "Footane" & "Hombre Misterioso" -- and before we forget them there's Etoile 2000 with the classic "Boubou Ngary." From Baobab (who also sprang from the Star Band) we get "Nijaay," "Sey," "Xarit," "Kelen Ati," "Juana," and "El Carretero" which ends the second disc. That's 18 cuts, the remaining eight are each one-shots from bands like Ouza et ses Ouzettes, Guelwar de Banjul, Ifang Bondi, Xalam -- and some you probably haven't heard of before.

"Faran tamba" comes from a very obscure Number One de Dakar album titled "78," presumably because it was recorded in that year. Fortunately for us it was collected on Dakar Sound vol 6, titled NUMBER 1 DE NUMBER ONE. "Senegal Jambaar" was on their MAAM BAMBA LP which kicks off with the great "Waalo," and again, it was collected on NUMBER III DE NUMBER ONE which Günter Gretz issued from Popular African Music in 2004. "Sumadomji" was on the LP Volume 5: YORO-KERY GORO which Eddy'Son released in Paris in 1980. It has not been anthologized yet. It's loping and laid back and worth every copper of the 79 pence. "Mory" & "Kery Goro" come from that same album and both of them can be found on Ted Jasper's Dakar Sound volume 7: NO 2 DE NO 1: another Senegalese essential in your library.

Star Band was the outfit of Pape Seck and later Laye Thiam. They are similar to Baobab in their Latin leaning. I have several of their discs that have outstanding music: Volume 3 included Laba Sosseh doing his Cuban thing, but also covering a couple of Congolese hits by Bella Bella and Jean-Serge Essous. The great Mar Seck was also a vocalist, alongside Doudou Sow. "Guesthe" [sic] by Idi Diop was on Star Band vol 11, it was also on a cassette credited to Number One de Dakar. It's so hard to keeps these bands straight. "Gossando," a Cuban cover by Mar Seck, was on their volume 2, while "Sene-Gambia" was on their volume 1 "LE MIAMI," named for the club where they started out. The only other available tracks by them would appear to be "Noguini, Noguini" and "Cheri Coco" which kick off Dakar Sound volume 5 and give you a sense of their awe-inspiring might. The Etoile de Dakar track "Tolou Badou Ndiaye," was the first cut on their first self-produced album. Badou Ndiaye is their guitarist and young Youssou Ndour the vocalist. "Footaane" was on the classic THIAPATHIOLY and "Hombre Mysterioso soy" was on XALIS. These tracks were gathered into the Sterns 4-CD set of Etoile de Dakar, another must-have. The Etoile 2000 song "Boubou Ngary" leads off the first Dakar Sound album with a bang. Crucial.

The six cuts from Baobab are varied: "Nijay" is from a very obscure album SENEGAAL SUNUGAAL (Disques Buur BRLP003 1975); "Sey" was on GUY GU REY GI (Disques Buur BRLP002 1975), as were "Xarit" and "El Carretero"; "Xarit" was also on VISAGE DU SENEGAL, along with "Kelen ati len" (Disques Buur BRLP004 1975). "Juana" was a 12-inch single, so it's fair to say this is pretty rare Baobab material. "Kelen ati leen" and "Sey" were recently picked up on the NIGHT AT CLUB BAOBAB disc so you surely have them, and "Nijay" was rerecorded for the MADE IN DAKAR album, so unless you want it with too much echo and a muffled sound, you can skip it. Completists will want the three other Baobab tracks however. The Disques Buur sides have been cherry-picked but no doubt the day will come when someone has the bright idea of presenting it all together, just as the various Miles Davis or John Coltrane sessions have been reassembled.

"Manduléen" by Super Diamono is the outstanding track on their GEEDY DAYAAN album, I still have a post-it on the sleeve to tell me which track to play on the air. (It's a good album marred by bad synth.) Omar Pene is the vocalist. Some of the other stray tracks on this new compilation were included in a series of discs that Sylla put out in 1993 called SENEGAL FLASH. This is a really fine collection (well, four of them anyway) but now out of print. "Relen te conten" by Guelewar and "Xalel dey mag" by Ifang Bondi, laid-back rockers, neither exceptional, come from the series. "Senegal 80" by Ouza was on an essential album: LAT-DIOR, a collection of their hits assembled by Popular African Music (pam oa 208) which features that great rarity in African music: fine acoustic piano. Ouza's groove is mostly mellow though sometimes there is a jerky synthesizer in the mix to spoil thing. The SENEGAL FLASH series contains a total of ten tracks by Ouza, perhaps worth issuing on their own as another Ouzettes album.

I presume regular readers have a grasp on Senegalese music and a few albums on the shelf. If you only have Baobab and Youssou Ndour then you owe it to yourself to get more: such as Cheick Lo, Baaba Maal, and a couple of comps like the excellent Dakar Sound duo THEIR THING and LATIN THING. The purpose of my little guide is to help you navigate this album and avoid paying a huge amount of money when you can download one album's worth for half the price. Happy hunting.


LOS AFRO-SALSEROS DE SENEGAL
EN LA HABANA (Popular African Music pam 407)

Orchestra Baobab added Ibrahim Ferrer to their line-up for one track on their return album SPECIALIST IN ALL STYLES, but Günter Gretz of Popular African Music went one better and accompanied a roster of great Senegalese salseros to Havana to cut an album. Unlike Africando, which was Senegalese singers fronting a band of Nuevo Yorquinos, LOS AFRO-SALSEROS DE SENEGAL EN LA HABANA is not a hybrid, but the best of Dakar's old-time salsa-mbalax musicians working out in the Communist playground. The credit actually goes to the Cuban ambassador to Guinée who invited these artists to come to Havana. Then local politicians stepped in and the list of invitees took on sinister overtones as names appeared and disappeared. Fortunately Günter Gretz was on hand to lobby for a real band rather than a delegation and thus got Issa Cissokho, sax-honking maestro of Baobab and Super Cayor, on the list. In the end however the trip wasn't such a treat for the musicians: In Cuba they had to play in hotel lobbies full of Japanese tourists who weren't listening to the music; not having dollars, the musicians couldn't buy a drink. When they got in the studio and started recording "Esta China," the engineer corrected Pape Fall's Spanish so much he switched to Wolof. There were attempts to sabotage the session, even bribes from a politician because he didn't want a German to have the rights to the recordings, but things worked out in the end and, for the first time, the old rivals from Baobab and Number One de Dakar collaborated beautifully to produce a monumental album. There's a real maturing of the sound here and it is indeed thanks to Gretz that we are now reaping these pleasures. This deserves to be as big as Buena Vista Socialism and if it gets a fair hearing it will be.

Thus members of four top Senegalese bands jammed on 8 classic songs that had all been hits in Senegal (as well as Cuba). First among the vocalists is Labah Sosseh (who sang with Dexter Johnson's bands in the 60s before his solo career). He performs his hit "Aminata." Issa does a great job with the sax lead and then arranger Yahya Fall from Number One de Dakar rips off a confident guitar lead. Next up it's Super Cayor's turn and James Gadiaga sings their hit about breastfeeding with a tune first heard on SOPENTÉ. Then Pape Fall gives us "Teungeuth" (which was heard on the Earthworks AFRICAN SALSA compilation), with the out-of-tune Egrem studios piano adding a really great lopsided momentum, particularly when playing with just the tama. Ousmane Diaw of Super Cayor on bass is incredibly brisk. Issa does a terse sax solo, then Ali Penda comes in on trumpet sounding a bit off-key like the piano. Also known as "Oh Coumba," this song was on Pape Fall and African Salsa's first release KE JARAXAM, released in 1995. After three listenings to the incessantly mad and insistent piano montuno part I can tell this is going to be top ten material for this year.

Mar Seck sings "Borom Gal" in a spirited version with speedy guitar and Ali Penda again soloing on trumpet. A crescendo is reached at the mid-point with Number One's "Diongoma" showing everyone deep in the pocket and a strident lead from Yahya. Another musical convergence occurs with "African Salsa" which has been reprised frequently since Pape Fall first hit with his own band. It was the lead-off track on the Earthworks compilation and is done to a turn here. The set ends with a coasting version of "El Manisero" (as I scream, Has it finally come to this!??!). I wish they had done "Diamoule Mawa" instead, but Labah Sosseh has a fine voice and as the senior of these singers probably got to pick the plum for this outing. It's another clean and clear recording, so this is the payoff for all the poorly recorded Senegalese cassettes we've listened to over the years!


BAABA MAAL
MISSING YOU (Mi Yeewnii) (Palm Pictures CD2067-2 2001)

Making the global more local is on the mind of Baaba Maal, the Senegalese superstar, whose album MISSING YOU shows him getting back to basics, as he brings blind guitarist Mansour Seck to the fore again for a mellow evening. Kante Manfila also brings his acoustic guitar along for the trip upstream. The backing musicians are the tops: Kaouding Cissokho on kora, Lansine Kouyate on balafon, Aly Wargue on flute and a whole stack of Secks on percussion. This may disappoint fans who only know the electric pop albums, but anyone who has seen Maal in concert or followed him from his first quiet emergence with Mansour Seck will be thrilled by this low-key set. "Jamma Jenngii" is a direct descendant of the great sound of that earlier collaboration, DJAM LEELI from 1984, with its sampled voices and insect sounds giving atmospheric colour to the piece. The balafon romps in too under the sprightly jangle of the acoustic guitars.

One thing is clear from the overall feeling and the few snippets of lyrics included in the slick booklet: Baaba Maal is in love! Which is why, while he is sitting in Peter Gabriel's swank studios in Box, Wiltshire, he is wilting and wishing he was back in Podor with his sweetie. There's a melancholic ache to his voice and you can see it in his face in the liner photos. The songs are delicate but propelled on some tight percussion. Fulani folk music at its finest, MISSING YOU is a classic.


ORCHESTRE BAOBAB
PIRATE'S CHOICE (World Circuit WCD063CD)

If you were to ask me, What's the best-ever African album? I'd be torn between a few choices: Hugh Tracey's recordings of THE GUITARS OF AFRICA from 1954 springs immediately to mind; a compilation of Orchestre Rock-a-Mambo 78s (sent to me by John Storm Roberts) is another personal favourite; Bembeya Jazz's HOMAGE A DEMBA CAMARA would be a strong contender, or a live album by them including "Petit Sekou"; Franco & Sam Mangwana's CO-OPERATION from 1982 also demands consideration (It has not been served well by Sonodisc's reissue: the tracks were carelessly dispersed over a couple of CDs and the out-takes discovered by Günter Gretz and included on the PAM edition of the OYE MOÇAMBIQUE LP by Sam have not resurfaced on CD yet); -- and PIRATE'S CHOICE by Orchestre Baobab of Senegal.

The Baobab story is a fairytale. Their music was popular in West Africa on cassette (also released in 1982) and much-bootlegged until it came to the ears of BBC disc jockey Charlie Gillett who heard it and started a quest to find the original. World Circuit of London released the album on vinyl in 1989. When the CD appeared with two bonus tracks, I broke down and bought a CD player (after holding out for a decade). Now World Circuit has re-released the CD. The bonus tracks, which were alternate takes of the best songs on the album, are gone. But in their place is a bigger bonus: a whole other album's worth of material from the same session. This Holy Grail of West African music has a happy outcome: the surviving members of Baobab reformed and started to tour.

The music is not mbalax but the first wave of the re-Africanization of Cuban music. With my limited Spanish I can almost understand the lyrics to "Soldadi" as Rudolph Gomis sings it, but then I've listened to it scores of times. The renewed interest also led to the rediscovery of other great Baobab albums. World Circuit released the two 1978 Paris sessions as ON VERRA ÇA in 1992. Most of two of their albums, MOHAMADOU BAMBA from 1980, and SIBOU ODIA from 1981 were released as BAMBA on Stern's as one of the top releases of 1993.

Günter Gretz put out a compilation called ROOTS AND FRUIT in 1999 as PAM African Dancefloor Classic 304. Although they came to rival the Star Band in their prime, Baobab were forgotten until the World Circuit reissue and subsequent popularity in the West. The first edition of Ronnie Graham's indispensable DA CAPO GUIDE TO CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN MUSIC (1988) missed them, but by the second volume they had been established in their rightful place. (It would be worthwhile for Stern's to revise and combine both volumes into one better reference book.)

This era of Senegalese music was clearly a golden age: there is a relaxed urgency to the sound, exemplary ballad singing from the long line-up of vocalists, catchy riffs and a great interplay between the guitarist, the bass, and the horns. The new tracks are all gems: "Ndiaga Nlaw" (not to be confused with "Mother Nlaw") uses the descant from Tom Jones' "Delilah" as the hook! The last cut "Balla Daffe" is a credible reggae groove in the Sly 'n Robbie mode without falling into the perennial African trap of trying to do Peter Tosh-style stadium reggae. Even if you have PIRATE'S CHOICE you'll probably want this for the second set (though I wish they had made it two separate albums) and the arty packaging which uses the classic photos of Malick Sidibé.


ORCHESTRA BAOBAB
BAMBA (Stern's STCD 3003 1993)

Baobab, the great Senegalese bar band of the late seventies, passed into legend over a decade ago, but with three recent CD reissues, each more incredible than the last, their reputation continues to soar. This CD presents back-to-back classic albums from the dance band who were rediscovered through the popular PIRATE'S CHOICE album. Originally released in 1980 and '81, these ten songs range from traditional Wolof melodies with great tama drumming to smoking Cuban sones, showing a danceable side to the haunting, bluesy band. Timbales and clarinet bring a broader range of sounds to the mix. Issa Cissokho's laid-back tenor sax is the perfect foil to the sprightly inventive leads of guitarist Barthelemy Attiso, and the two vocalists, Balla Sidibe and Thione Seck, complement each other with plaintive minor harmonies and luxuriate in catchy melodies. Seck's soulful vocals (treated with Echoplex), grab you from the first notes. Punchy horn arrangements and long uncoiling guitar solos (based partly on classical kora riffs, partly on early Santana) ride the flowing current of gentle rhythms.


ORCHESTRE BAOBAB
ROOTS AND FRUIT (Popular African Music pam ADC 304)

Truly the greatest band ever to come out of the bustling, sprawling dusty city of Dakar, Senegal, Orchestre Baobab held sway at the nightclub for which they are named throughout the nineteen-seventies. Blending the Cuban influence that was popular in West Africa since the 1940s, with indigenous local forms which gained popularity throughout the sixties as "Authenticité" movements blossomed in the newly-independent countries. The band was formed from the Star band (which eventually gave birth to Youssou Ndour and his Etoile de Dakar) and recorded a dozen popular albums.

BAOBAB: ROOTS AND FRUIT is the fifth CD reissue of Baobab material. It provides a variety of musical styles and some superlative musicianship by Barthelemy Atisso on lead guitar, the smouldering sax stylings of Baro N'Diaye (a student of Dexter Johnson) or Issa Cissako, and the vocals of Balla Sidibé, Rudy Gomis, and Laye M'boup. The diverse cultural backgrounds of the members brings Mandinka music with traces of Guinean, Malian and even Togolese influences to the sound. In addition to the Cuban tinge on several numbers, and the mbalax style that is endemic to most Senegalese recordings since the seventies, there is a surprising lot of R&B, even echoes of Ethiopian pop in one sax solo (on "Saxaar"), reggae and ska in others. All this demonstrates the incredible range of the assembled members of Baobab. "Cabral" is based on the changes of "Guantanamera," and it's taken at a leisurely gate, characteristic of the Guinean bands of the 1970s who you can picture, leaning back against the wall or their amps, eyes closed behind shades, sweat spreading on their brightly patterned shirts, the cuffs of their frayed bellbottoms sweeping the floor.

Two of the songs on ROOTS AND FRUIT, namely "Tante Marie" and "Digone nga ma," were also recorded by the band in their 1978 Paris sessions which are available on Melodie 79559-2. The versions here are fuller, both in sound and in interpretation.

The most uncharacteristic song on this CD is "Toon baaxul" which starts with "one-drop" reggae drumming. It was a 1986 solo recording of Rudy Gomis who quit the band when they changed the line-up to add more percussion and try to lure more female audience members (who in turn would bring males). Atisso contributed the guitar part to this unusual song.

This CD is part of Günter Gretz's superlative series on the Popular African Music label of Frankfurt. Typically it has excellent liner notes, an indispensable discography to help you sort out what has been reissued and what hasn't, and historic photos of the band.


ORCHESTRA BAOBAB
SPECIALIST IN ALL STYLES (World Circuit PRCD 300894)

The brand spanking new Orchestra Baobab CD from World Circuit is a delight. It is their first recording together in 20 years. Nevertheless the band strolls through their repertoire in a confident manner. Recorded live over a ten-day period at Youssou Ndour's studio in Dakar, there are five vocalists and two guest appearances, from Ibrahim Ferrer and Ndour. Of course, the pillars of the sound are the smoky sax of Issa Cissokho & Barthelemy Atisso's lead guitar. There's a looseness and spontaneity to the sound, as if they are just getting their chops back together after the two decade hiatus, but that only adds to the preciousness of this recording. It's not tentative, but rather relaxed, and I'm glad they decided to make a spontaneous recording rather than overdubbing parts. I wouldn't want to hear a greatest hits package taken from their old recordings since many of those were low fidelity. We hear superb sound and subtle changes from the established versions of the songs, mainly in the tempos and the soloing, but now the congas are clearly audible. They kick off with "Bul Ma Min" from 1980 in a relaxed mode. The drummer, Mountaga Kouyate, remembers all his tricky fills from the BAMBA album, and Atisso gives us a reprise of his classic fast-picked solo.

After a track spotlighting Issa on sax, they launch into the spooky "Di moo wor" where the vocals and guitar creep around invoking ghosts, holding us in their spell. Atisso also brings out the Echoplex for his solo on "El son te llama," which does sound like it's double-tracked. He also goes wild ornamenting the background to "Utra Horas" on which Ibrahim Ferrer appears. It's faster than the original but you sense their excitement in getting to remake this one. Then (surprise!), along comes Youssou Ndour to add his pipes in contrast to the mellow baritone of Ferrer and Rudy Gomis's tenor voice. I'm sure there's no hard feelings, but Ndour and the mbalax sound was responsible for the failure of Baobab in 1982. One thing is certain, Baobab are back and will go on to great things and much-deserved wide acclaim with this new release and the supporting tour.

CHEIKH LÔ
BAMBAY GUEEJ (World Circuit WCD0057CD 1999)

From the first notes of Cheikh Lô's new CD, BAMBAY GUEEJ, you know you are in for a treat. Though it's only the singer's second outing, his assurance comes from a life deep in the music of his native Senegal infused with the New World currents of Cuban country music and James Brown. It's no surprise to learn that this crisp album, recorded at Youssou Ndour's studio in Senegal, has horn arrangements by Pee Wee Ellis who scripted the charts for the Godfather of Soul himself during the "Cold Sweat" period of the nineteen-sixties.

When I saw David Murray in town with his Fo Deuk Revue, I thought this was what African music needed: African-American jazz horns instead of tweaky French disco synthesizers, and it's starting to become a reality. It makes a huge difference to the mood of the music: the swelling tide of horns and Hammond organ are a balm in the mellow tracks and fat in the fire of the smokers. The title cut is closest to a funky rave, though the horn riffs are as much Kool & the Gang as the Famous Flames. Cheikh Lô raps and struts his tama drum while biding his time and the whole thing just coasts along on the smouldering funky groove. Pee Wee comes up front on Hammond for the jazzy "Bobo-Dioulasso" which features Oumou Sangare from Mali on vocals. Richard Egües, flautist and founder of the legendary Orchestre Aragon from Cuba, comes aboard for a blistering take on "M'Beddemi" which is based on Guillermo Portabales' classic guajira "El Carretero" -- a song about to overtake "El Manisero" in popularity for African cover versions. Though it's a chestnut, this is a fresh take (compare the almost thirty year old version by Etoile 2000 on the classic DAKAR SOUND VOLUME 1), and Lô adds lyrics about life on the street: "No longer just the madmen, the streets are full of the angry and the poor." Sounds like home, doesn't it? World Circuit's distinctive package also adds appeal to this excellent offering.


DEXTER JOHNSON
SERIE SANGOMAR 1 (Dakar Sound DKS 016)
SERIE SANGOMAR 2 (Dakar Sound DKS 017)

One of the major exponents of the unique saxophone sound of Africa was also one of the key people in keeping alive the Cuban tradition. Dexter Johnson anchored the house band at Sangomar Nightclub in Dakar, Senegal, in the 1960s. The whole subsequent popularity of artists like Gnonnas Pedro, Laba Sosseh, and recently Africando, stems from this vital connection.

A Nigerian by birth, Johnson moved West to spread Highlife music. At that time, in the late fifties, there was a cultural conflict in the music of French West Africa: indigenous forms were arising to replace French colonial music, but more and more people were turning to cha-cha and mambo rhythms from Cuba. Hybrids were not succeeding, so Johnson took over the Star Band in Dakar and turned it into a Cuban cover band, and the rest is history. His golden sax tone glitters like desert sand at noon.

These recordings were made by the owner of the nightclub and the tapes have decayed in the tropical climate, but Dakar Sound (that excellent label based in Groningen, Holland) has managed to do a lot of restoration. It's a miracle that these gigs were recorded at all. Muscially they are an important link to the reintegration of Afro-Cuban rhythms into the motherland. STARBAND - SUPERSTAR DE DAKAR - INTERNATIONAL BAND featuring Dexter Johnson, is the title, showing the evolving groups that performed with the legendary saxophonist in the mid-sixties. This is the essential collection for anyone interested in how Salsa Africana came about.


EL HADJI FAYE AND ETOILE 2000
CHEIKH IBRA FALL (Dakar Audio Diffusion 1998)

El Hadji Faye and Etoile 2000 give us a traditional Senegalese mbalax offering on their release CHEIKH IBRA FALL with kora and tama to the fore. Cheikh Ibra Fall was the first disciple of the marabout Bamba Guuej, founder of the Islamic sect of Mouridism which is widespread in Senegal. Etoile 2000 was the first splinter group from Etoile de Dakar and they have stuck with the muscular mbalax groove while Youssou Ndour was off exploring his sensitive synthi side with Peter Gabriel. And once more we get a reworked Cuban classic, "Afromanicero," which sounds great with kora and talking drum and words in Wolof. The great Laba Sosseh who popularized charanga in West Africa in the 1970s does the guest vocals in pidgin Spanish and someone called simply William plays electric violin.

The sound on this album is a bit shrill, which makes it characteristically Senegalese. Things sag in the middle with "Sédé," a track featuring turgid synthesizer washes, but the kora and talking drum pick it up for the title cut which quickly breaks out into a wild dervish whirlwind, after which there are two instrumental reprises of the opening cuts. After this little interlude we get a classic Etoile 2000 track redolent of their old "stadium sound" recordings with heaps of echo and reverb on the voice and organ, and snaky lead guitar wrapping around the talking drum on "Wirri Wirri." The drifting sound always makes me think of hot nights in the tropics, a radio tuned to a distant signal, with the smell of cooking and faint ghosts discernible in the gloom beyond the paraffin lamp.


FALLOU DIENG
MEDINA (Sterns 1090 2000)

The pure mbalax sound can be heard on Fallou Dieng's MEDINA. It sounds a lot like old school Youssou and Etoile de Dakar from their PG (Pre-Gabriel) heyday. The tama and sabar drums are prominent on this collection of songs drawn from four cassettes recorded by Dieng and the DLC band over a four-year period. While other Senegalese bands are adopting synthesizers, Dieng insists on having real brass and features Thierno Koïté on sax (he recently played on Cheikh Lô's BAMBAY GUEEJ). Some veterans of Super Etoile contribute to the album and even Youssou's sister-in-law sings backing vocals. The song "Koleuré (Gratitude)" would fool most people into thinking it was a Youssou song. But MEDINA is not a derivative album, it's just straight-ahead funky mbalax.


VARIOUS ARTISTS
THE MUSIC IN MY HEAD (Stern's)

THE MUSIC IN MY HEAD is the title of a book and a CD. The novel was written by Mark Hudson and published by Jonathan Cape. It is a tour-de-force about the first white guy to get to Youssou Ndour and all that followed, from early recognition to big deals with Peter Gabriel and the like (all appearing in thinly veiled disguise). That book is a must-read. The companion CD which was accurately subtitled "Indispensable classics and unknown gems from the golden age of African pop," is rooted in Senegal, with Franco and OK Jazz making a guest incursion. It provides a glimpse into West African pop from an insider's point of view. By now you probably have other compilations or collections of the artists on here, Number One de Dakar, the acid tones of early Etoile de Dakar, Thione Seck and Salif Keita, but these are neatly sequenced gems. And among all the Etoiles, don't overlook the truly stellar Etoile 2000 tearing through "Boubou n'gary." The El Hadji Faye and Pape Seck tracks are their best; the CD is as brilliantly coherent as Hudson's novel. Though the emphasis is on the buzzed, most rocked-out tracks we still hear snatches of balafon and kora in the mix.


NICOLAS MENHEIM & LE SUPER SABADOR
COMMANDANTE CHE GUEVARA (Popular African Music pam oa 209)

A musical offering that bridges the Atlantic from Senegal to Cuba comes from Nicolas Menheim & Le Super Sabador. Menheim paid his dues in all the right bands: Star Band, Number One and Super Etoile. So he sang alongside Youssou Ndour as well as Pap Seck. In 1991 he was one of the founding trio of Africando, recorded four albums with them and toured the world. He quit to go back to Senegal and formed Le Super Sabador and here we have their first two cassettes united on one album: COMMANDANTE CHE GUEVARA. It's a very Cuban sounding set. The piano is in tune and works out, but the pianist is not credited. There's timbales, maracas and guiro, but no tama. The guiro player, Maguette Dionne, also sings lead on two cuts. She's known as the "Celia Cruz of Senegal," perhaps for being the only female salseros from there. Another vocalist, Camou Yandé, gets to front the band for two songs, one of them by Tabu Ley Rochereau. No other songwriters are credited but there is strong writing on here and really good arrangements, particularly the horn parts (outstanding trombone and two trumpets). The style is montuno with a hint of Senegal and is very smooth.


OUZA & SES OUZETTES
LAT-DIOR (Popular African Music pam oa 208)

LAT-DIOR is a compilation of classic tracks from OUZA & SES OUZETTES from 1976-90. It takes a couple of hearings to get used to the Islamic harmonies, but anyone into the classic Senegalese sound of Baobab and Star Band will gravitate to this. Plus you can trust Günter Gretz to come up with the goods. Here he has combed through Ouza's output (4 LPs, plus two 7" singles from the seventies, and 14 cassettes spanning the eighties and nineties) to deliver another classic. The first few cuts are drawn from a 1990 session with squirty synth but a tasty Wes Montgomery-style lead guitar by Oumar Sow and a quartet of female singers (Les Filles Branchées) that yielded the cassette "Ndar." By the fourth track, the magical ten-minute long "Guajira," we are in the sweet tropical air of the Afro-Cuban night with a brace of saxes and Pape Seck on guitar, among others. The heart of this new PAM release is this session from 1982 with all four tracks of the "Nakhe M'baaye" cassette included where the band covers all styles including speedy mbalax with flanged guitar, tama, and the delightful addition of acoustic piano.

There is a complete discography and liner notes by Gretz who tells us of the controversy of Ouza's politics in his many songs, and various bands formed by Ouza including one with Baaba Maal in the early eighties. He also notes that there is an exceptional album called "Ouza et les 4 femmes dans le vent" featuring four women singers who went on to solo prominence in Senegal. "Wherever you find it buy it. The sound is poor. I have tried in vain to find the master," Gretz adds parenthetically, indicating the kind of effort he puts into his productions.

Two of the LPs in the discography were the source for ten tracks on the Senegal Flash series that Syllart put out around 1993, so have not been included here. But one track from WETHE has been included, the slow rocker "Senegal 80" with its familiar "Hang on Sloopy" 12-bar stroll. Another of the tracks, "Thiaroye," is an important song because it discusses the French massacre of Senegalese troops after World War II. Despite its sympathetic message, it led to censure by President Senghor. (You can find it on SENEGAL FLASH-BANJUL).