XALAM (Riverboat TUGCD1130)

This is remarkable: Ben Aylon is an Israeli musician who traveled to Dakar seven years ago to study the traditional sabar drum, with the son of the great Doudou Ndaiye Rose as his teacher. He became so proficient he was soon gigging with the likes of Youssou Ndour. He developed a technique for playing ten drums at once, to make the sound of a whole troupe of drummers! He was greatly influenced by the takamba ceremonial music of Gao. He then went on to study ngoni, xalam (another ancient stringed instrument) and other traditional West African instruments. His one man show was televised in Senegal and led to him performing with Cheikh Lô (an incredible drummer himself), Omar Pene and Doudou Ndiaye Rose. For his debut album Aylon plays the xalam, as well as sabar, various ngonis, synth and electric bass. He explains the reason for the title of his album: the word is also the root of the Hebrew word for "dream." The line-up is as impressive as Aylon's career, for he managed to record two separate Malian divas as he encountered them in his travels. Amy Sacko sings "Alafia" (recorded in Gibraltar) and he recorded the late Khaira Arby in a hotel room in Worms, Germany, in 2015. His third diva, is Aviva, an Ethiopian singer, stretching the sound across Africa to the East coast. The tracks with these guest vocalists are exceptional, like he is flexing every muscle to come up to their level. This is another great discovery from Riverboat.

NGALU FOUTA (Palenque Records)

Ngatamaaré is a group from the Fouta region of Senegal. They are Diola, the same ethnic group as Baaba Maal (who produced their first album in 2003 and, if you remember, released an album called Firin in Fouta), and have sonic similarities to him and also (to my ears) the classic Casamance band Touré Kounda (from the South), but that is more my western preconceptions reacting to the high voice on echo over the tama drums and interwoven rhythms. They come from Northern Senegal and Mauretania. Their name Ngatamaaré means the big rain that comes to end a drought. The group was formed in 1997 by two young men, Saly Diawu and Harouna Diop, who have returned to the traditional sounds of their Peulh ancestors, with calabashes, guitar and I also hear ngoni. In fact I think I hear two ngonis on "Noua" dueling with the guitarist. Like Touré Kunda there is a spiritual quality, sort of an endless twilight time that illuminates their sound. And then there is the frantic tama drumming we associate with early Youssou Ndour, who is from another ethnic group entirely! So despite my confusion as to where in Senegal this sound originates, I am really enjoying their fresh attack on the traditional music of the Peuls and other ethnic groups (Yella, Wango, Ripoo and Nallé are mentioned in the notes); their energy is sustained throughout and the drummers keep them going. Bits of ambient sound float in and out and the acoustic guitar is clean and clear. It's not all frantic and they settle down to deliver a well-rounded heartwarming set.


Biram Seck is a singer/songwriter who hails from Dakar. Son of a traditional Wolof storyteller, he is endowed with a fine soulful voice. Relocating to London he met a French jazz guitarist, Thibaut Remy, and they decided to merge their bands, creating a classic Afrobeat fusion. In fact they have played with Tony Allen, doyen of the genre. Here the drums are mainly the traditional sabar from Senegal (two of them), with jazz elements coming from the sparkling horns, trumpet and sax, and the guitar. Plus there are several guest horn players to beef up the arrangements. Their influences vary from Fania All Stars to Ethiopian jazz to traditional Senegalese bands like Thione Seck or Etoile de Dakar, but the overwhelming feeling is of West African afrobeat. Normally I would pass on this type of retro mixture, but there is some excellent soloing, strong songwriting, and as I say Seck is a very good singer.

MOUHAMADOU BAMBA (Stern's music)

I was a late adopter of compact discs. The format was introduced by Philips and Sony in 1982 and touted as the future of music. People unquestioningly sold off their LPs to get the new format, at which point I started collecting Cuban albums on Seeco and Palladium that were turning up cheap, and expanding my African holdings. I heard of CDs that stopped playing inexplicably; some folk touted "gold" CDs that had an extra precious coating. Skeptics wondered whether they would last more than a decade. I stuck with vinyl until 1989 when World Circuit reissued Pirate's Choice by Orchestre Baobab with two alternate takes. I was done for. Well, I argued, I could lay in my hammock for a full hour listening to a disc, instead of struggling to get out halfway through and flip the disc. Now 40 years later no one wants CDs anymore, most people want MP3 files and a growing segment of the audience is giving a second listen to the LP format. Despite the ecological implications of vinyl, pressing plants are re-opening to meet the growing demand. Yes LPs can get scratched, but there's nothing like the "warmth" of the sound compared to the clinical sterility of other formats. So now we've gone full circle and Baobab Gueye-Gui de Dakar's Mouhamadou Bamba is once again coming out on vinyl. It's a form of fetishism for boomers validating their existence as we look back over the trajectory of our lives; though it's more healthy finding new music than being entrenched in the sounds that defined our adolescence as many of my generation seem to do. Amadou Bamba was a wandering preacher, founder of the mystic Mouride Brotherhood in Senegal in 1883. I don't think this is a thematic album, since I don't understand Wolof, but it coheres wonderfully. And, yes, you already have it or nearly all of it on CD, because it is a reissue of half of Bamba the 1993 Stern's release that included two rare albums from 1980-81, the peak of the band, featuring Thione Seck on vocals (who left soon after this to start his own band). But crucially, at the time, Stern's left off one track from each LP to squeeze two albums onto one CD, so the vinyl includes the first five tracks from the Bamba CD with the addition of "Yen saay," an exquisite 8-minute ballad animated by a wiry lead from Attiso, that did appear once on CD, on the 2006 Cantos compilation African Classics. Band-leader Issa Cissokho (sax) has died, and the other key member, guitarist Barthelemy Attiso has retired, so there will be no more new Baobab albums. The bonsai craze that caused everyone to jettison their albums in the first place overlooked another important factor: the delight of handling the LP cover and being able to read the liner notes in a readable text size (not to mention rolling a joint in the gatefold editions of Miles Davis or Santana albums!). Now the album has been repressed with beautiful original artwork from one of the two original issues. Yes, you will have to get up halfway through to turn over the LP, but some sacrifices are worth making.

HISTORY (Naive Records)

I am trying not to sound like a cranky old sourpuss. I did not review the Salif Keita album Another Blank, which came out last October (on the same label) and was touted to be his final statement (with a grand farewell tour in the manner of Elton John or other rolling stoners). Youssou is now a grand old man too, though I remember what a bright lad he was on his first US tour when he came by the radio station in a little college on top of a hill in San Francisco and dutifully answered the same old questions put to him by yours truly, a novice young broadcaster. Now he looks back over 35 years with portentous remakes of some of his favorite tracks, many first issued on cassette and sold in the streets of Dakar and then bootlegged in ever-diminishing quality. The opener is a tribute to Habib Faye, longtime sideman in his band, but it is loungey with easy-listening horns and not a promising start. Seinabo Sey (proponent of Scandinavian electro-soul) takes over vocals on the second track, "Birima," which is so depressing I had to take it off. Again there's angst-laden synths and this time an intrusive drum pattern. Where's Youssou? Oh here he is singing harmony in English, not his strong suit. Then he wails on echo... how much more of this can I stand? I liked Peter Gabriel back in the days of "Biko" but that big room over-production where every instrument has its own echo chamber, is really ponderous. Youssou's songs are "reimagined"; I would have preferred to hear them recreated. To fans in Dakar the cassettes were just a byproduct of their experience of the band, which they saw in clubs and stadiums; to fans in the West however, the same cassettes became talismata, however imperfect, of an emotional atmosphere they longed to get inside. The poor sound made you ache for it to open up so you could hear the tama, see the robes flapping as the dancers bucked on the stage, driven by the music. But without looking back, globetrotting Youssou goes off to Nigeria to refigure a couple of tunes by percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. In this he also follows Keita who had Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Angelique Kidjo on his "final" album. "Macoumba" returns to the mbalax sounds of Dakar that made Ndour famous and we want to hold the moment, have it blossom into a full album. It's worth holding out to hear this one, but then the "Kenny G of Cameroun" Alain Oyono returns & they put Youssou back into the echo chamber. And it does get worse, "Hello (remix)" is another English-language song this time by Congolese-Swede Mohombi, with added wailing from Youssou. It must have escaped from the Eurovision song contest, on its hands and knees. This album is all over the map, sadly it doesn't stop long enough in Dakar to get any traction. I often lamented the influence of Peter Gabriel on Ndour, but then his 2004 album Egypt, on Nonesuch, showed he could turn his vocal talents to the good with the right material. It's a shame his history is so tainted with the mediocre pop traces of his success.


A new vinyl LP from Ostinato Records of New York, featuring psychedelic Senegalese music from the golden age, focused on Latin rhythms. Why, I will take a large dollop of that, thank you. If you are a Star Band fanatic like me you will have their dozen albums showcasing the acid-washed guitar of Yakhya Fall, Cuban rhythms mixed into the mbalax, and a roster of singers, including Youssou Ndour, Pape Seck and Laba Sosseh who went on to stardom with other bands including Etoile de Dakar and Number One. Other alumni include guitar wizard Barthélémy Attiso, singer Balla Sidibe and saxophonist Issa Cissoko, who left to found Orchestre Baobab. Dexter Johnson plied the sax, before he and Laba Sosseh left to form Super Star de Dakar and Estrellas Africanas. The main Star Band discography is here.
For the record the tracks are "Guajira Ven," written by Trio Matamoros, from vol 4 (sung by Laba Sosseh), "Mysterioso" which was on Vol 12, originally a hit for Dominican duo Cuco & Martin Valoy who performed as Los Ahijados, "Andado" from vol 10 (sung by Papa Fall), "Mariama" from vol 9, "Danguele Fasso" from vol 8 (sung by Papa Fall), and "Le Lolay" which appeared on vol 3 (again sung by Laba Sosseh). Those with disposable income will want the vinyl which comes with a 12-page booklet. I strung these tracks together, which are their most Latin ones, and it makes a great set. "Danguele Fasso" is a Wolof rewrite of "Cambia el paso (o se te rompe el vestido)" i.e. change the step or you'll rip your dress -- the lyrics from "El paso de Encarnación" by Antonio Machin, popularized by Orq Aragón, and then by Larry Harlow of Fania All Stars, a classic jam in any language. This will have to do until the remastered 12-disc box set comes out.


Not unlike an aging rocker, Salif Keita announced his retirement with a final album along with a farewell tour. Sad to report his farewell album is just an attempt to recapture his glory moment from 1987 when his breakout album Soro, produced by Ibrahim Sylla, brought synth and euro-horns to his traditional West African sound. I cannot listen to it. Thirty years later I am sick of the sound of synth washes and sampled instruments. There's no doubt the West African sound certainly has evolved and needs to continue to grow but there is still room for traditional praise-singing as heard on the opening cuts from this strong album from Coumba Gawlo Seck. The ubiquitous Sylla launched her career in the mid-90s when the Senegalese singer was still in her early 20s. Next to Youssou Ndour she is the best-selling artist in her homeland. Her new album showcases folk music, pop music and what I would call light jazz. This is an unfortunate development, after a strong opening when she gets to "Na," the fourth track, and Kenny G-type sax playing intrudes, along with the shrill Peul flute, it's over the top. Pop is up next with "Diombadio" which also has a traditional fiddle player behind the big band. "Rokale," "Borom Ndaam" and "Ngoulok" remind me a lot of the Salif Keita sound I was complaining about above. However the latter turns into a jam on the sabar drums and I suspect she is a fine dancer and they can tear this up in performance. "Tekk Gui" is more of a breathy French ballad, with echoey keyboards and bird sounds, the sort of thing that made us think Baaba Maal had lost the plot. More atmospherics kick off "Naby" which leans towards the "tinkly arabesque" sound Youssou captured on his Sufi album, Egypt. This is a good showcase for her voice and smartly they held it back (so she wouldn't get hoarse?) to show what she is capable of, after the tepid mid-section of the disc. The closer "Allez Africa" is another very light pop ditty with a heavy bass bomp to get the French-speaking punters waving their hands in the air.

TAMALA (Muziekpublique)

This trio was formed in the Low Countries, far from the hot deserts of West Africa. Yet they retain the arid raspy vocals and the sparkling strings reminiscent of glistening drops of water evaporating in the bright sun. The two Africans are Senegalese and brought their traditions into exile in Europe. There they hooked up with violinist Wouter Vandenabeele in Brussels, the international crossroads of Belgium. Like other successful fusion albums, the violin fits in perfectly with the plangent kora of Sissoko and the other strings plucked by Mola Sylla. He plays the small ngoni-like xalam and thumb piano on two tracks. The band name Tamala means Travelers, which has far pleasanter connotations than Refugees. However they sing about the plight of slaves in the striking number "Kongoman" which refers not to Jamaican music but to the kalimba which was brought to Senegal by slaves en route to the New World. The violin soars and evokes the big "Egyptian" sound that Youssou admired in the music of Oum Kalthoum. In the heart of the album, the violin leads the line on the instrumental "Ceppe" and "Zanzibar" which is a tribute to Bi Kidude, the late taarab singer. Kora and xalam intertwine on "Geej DJu Malika" a song about Malika the town near Dakar where Sylla goes to the ocean for inspiration. Vandenabeele plucks his fiddle expressively too. In fact the violin blends in perfectly, alternately plucked and bowed (as on "Xafamaya") adding counterpoint and grace notes and making the ensemble sound that much bigger.


There are many guests on the new Baobab, their first new album in a decade, but one notable absence: Barthélémy Attisso, the brilliant guitarist whose fine filigree adorned all of their recordings until now. Maybe to compensate they've added a kora, which seems very incongruous given their Latin-tinged music; their regular rhythm guitarist Latfi Benjeloun is also missing from the line-up. The rest of the surviving band members are here: the twin saxes of Issa Cissoko & Thierno Koite, the voices of Balla Sidibé & Rudy Gomis. Plus the rhythm section. Adding to the line-up we find veteran guitarist Yahya Fall who was with the Star Band throughout the 1970s; by the 90s he was backing Mar Seck. There's a trombone, jauntily played by Wilfried Zinzou; two powerhouse Senegalese singers also show up for a moment: Chiekh Lo sings on one song and Thione Seck on another. Seck was originally in the band, but quit in 1979 to pursue his own career with Le Raam Daan, a more mbalax-oriented group. Here he reprises "Sey," his hit with Baobab which can be found on the Guy Gu Rey Gi album (Buur BRLP002 1965). If you don't have that don't despair, you can also hear it on the Night at Club Baobab compilation CD (Oriki Music, 2006). The new version cooks along, thanks to high fidelity and the fact the new guitarists only have to mimic the original to sound good. Oumar Sow, another legendary Senegalese guitarist, also appears, but I think only as a rhymist. There's another remake, of "Kanouté," which returns as the strong opening cut, "Foulo," sung by Balla, who also interpolates bits of "Djanfa Magni" into the chorus. There's no question this new release is a great album and you need to hear it, but on first listen I was a little disappointed by the kora instead of the sparkling leads of Barthélémy (who decided to stay home in Togo after 16 years of endless world tours, since their comeback). Guitar solos are notable by their absence and without Attisso it's really not Baobab. Abdouleye Cissoko, on the kora, steps up for a remake of "Mariama," a Manding folk song covered by Onivogui Balla et ses Balladins, Orch Paillote and other groups. But the saxes, congas and timbales combine to make the familiar melting ambience just fine.

DAFAREER (Zhu Culture Productions)

Diama Ndiaye is Senegalese but has lived in Congo and elsewhere so there's a nice pan-African feel to her music which is also varied in styles and approach. She has been an actress, singer and dancer all her life, making her debut with the National Theatre of Senegal. Then she was a singer with the great Ouza and later Bira Guèye. On tour to Portugal in 1994 she left the Ballet Mansour and spent 8 years living there before moving to France. Following this she lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo before moving to Djibouti. The title means "He is lost" in Wolof, and is a song about street children which she encounters in African cities. She pleads with parents to care for their offspring. There is a degree of the big bombastic sound we associate with the early 80s Salif Keita albums, especially in her singing, but also some speedy soukous with accordion in "RDC-Senegal," where she sings loud and breathlessly like she is dancing with flailing arms while singing! Best of all are tracks like the title "Dafarèèr," which harken back to the sound of Ouza, with nice horn punctuation, simple rock instrumentation, and not too much of the synth strings. Otherwise she tends to get preachy which, even to a non-Wolof speaker, is a bit tedious.

YANFU (Studio Nomade SNP2016-IC-01/2)

Another tradition-based album of Manding music, this one with some French (?) musicians jamming on it. Senegal and Gambia are referenced in the songs. Cissokho is the leader, singing (in English on "Dinala setsi") and playing kora. The engine of the band is electric bass, Western drumkit and a Peul flute. Guests include some of the musicians from the Sory Diabate Wali session: Petit Adama Diarra on djembe and acoustic guitar or three tracks and Sory Diabaté on balafon on one cut. In addition the renowned Nigerian saxophonist Orlando Julius steps up for one song, "Senegal", which aspires to funk, and Khadim Sene contributes sabar, which is a variable pitch or talking drum. Guillaume Lavergne's keyboards add sonic washes (including literally ocean sounds) which lend atmosphere without being overwhelming. The kora also uses electronic pedals for stereo and reverb which is a bit overdone on "Manduleen." The Peul flute is an acquired taste: fans of Jethro Tull will probably dig the "yelling and gasping into the mouth-hole" aspect. It's balanced between mbalax and rock but interesting to see where traditional music is headed.

MELOKAANE (Pump Up the World)

This album has been in my inbox for a while. I almost rejected it for trying too hard, as it is all over the map, musically speaking, but came back to it, and, after deselecting one track and ignoring some aspects of others, I am beginning to think it's pretty impressive. First though is the artist's name, Elage, which I think is a different way of spelling "El Hadj," meaning a Muslim pilgrim. Is this a sleight of tongue to disguise his spiritual affiliation, or am I over-interpreting? The title Melokáane means "reflection of a life's journey" in Wolof, so that explains why there were so many styles on here. Just as if you asked me to play a set that typified who I was, you'd get Bach, Monk, the Who, Carleton & the Shoes, Gershwin and Harry Warren, as well as the music you see me writing about on here. So it's fair to say that if he is presenting a self-portrait he is not going to present a unified concept album (Aside, do you know what the first concept album was? Give up? In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra, Capitol, 1955). So, the informing concept behind this album is a Wolof proverb: "You are everything you are not, until you finally become who you truly are." That's a fine idea and explains why he is aspiring to the Peter Gabriel and Youssou Ndour level on one hand and the rootical African who turns his back on the allurements of Western arena rock on the other. He is trying it on. Both those artists I mentioned are present in spirit: he covers Gabriel's "Secret World" in Wolof, and not only sings like Youssou when he tries, but has Youssou's great guitarist "Jimmy" Mamadou Mbaye on "Sankara," a song about the fallen African leader. There is an mbalax feel to the percussion, which gets rolling on the title cut. I had to delete the next track "Just one day" featuring Johnny Reid who is paradoxically described as a "Canadian superstar" -- yes, I have heard of Justin Bieber and Celine Dion, but really! (I googled "Canadian superstar Johnny Reid" and found he recently held an exclusive bottle signing event at the Liquor Mart in Winnipeg.) OK, better off without. I have no idea who Jordan Officer is, but he adds a Howlin Wolf skirl to the guitar on "Tay" which is the best track on here. We press on, past the Gabriel cover, and come to a reggae track "Probleme yi" which is gratuitous, followed by an effort to do something more uptempo with Black Ark dub effects, but featuring over-miked drums and an inept keyboard which starts to go into a montuno when they cut the tape. Speedy mbalax helps him climb out of the hole he has dug with the dance track "Sai sai." He goes out in grand style (the "full Gabriel" with synths and choirs on echo) on "Dekoulo Fi" about an immigrant being deported, despite his best efforts, his dream is shattered. If this album was an EP of only the first four tracks, it would be a gem.

AW SA YONE VOL 2 (Teranga Beat TBCD 020CD)

I've been revisiting my Senegalese collection since Cheikh Lo's latest release, as well as the Youssou Ndour concert from the 80s that came out last month on RealWorld. Now we have been inundated with great previously unreleased material from the bright days following independence from France in June 1960. From independence, Senegal thrived under Socialism with the visionary poet Léopold Senghor as president. The country never suffered a military coup or tribal wars and became a welcome venue for visiting acts from North America, Cuba and the rest of Africa, so the music scene thrived. Dieuf-Dieul embodied the local bands' ability to take external influences, such as Afro-Cuban and American jazz and psychedelic rock and incorporate them into their mbalax sound. But what's truly remarkable about them is that they were in many ways an urban legend, because they never released any recordings. Everyone from Thiès would say they were the best band ever, but no one had so much as a cassette to back up this claim. This makes their rediscovery by Adamantios Kafetzis of Teranga Beat even more remarkable: he has now given us two full-length albums by this fantastic group comprising all their known recordings. The band came about when a group of disaffected musicians from Ouza & ses Ouzettes (including the phenomenal guitarist Pape Seck) decided to quit (over money) while playing in Thiès and stayed in town to pick up gigs at local nightclubs. They were augmented by local singers and percussionists and combined the best elements of different musical backgrounds, traditional and modern, into a superb hybrid. They met Bassirou Sarr who was trying to get a band together and shared rehearsal space with him: his energy was infectious so they eventually merged the two groups. These tracks are mostly ten to twelve minutes long, with great guitar and sax solos and a warm earthy feel as they unfold into epic jams. The recordings were made live (I am guessing at Sangomar or another nightclub) in 1980 on a Sony four-track multi reel-to-reel recorder and there are also three tracks from an unfinished 1981 session. Bassirou Sarr is the featured singer (he has recently recorded with Africando) and he pours passion like lighter fluid onto the smoldering rhythm section of talking drums (sabar) and kit drums. Two other vocalists get one song each. In Casamance they met Assane Camara (then known as Camou Tande) and asked him to join the group. He does a Cuban number "Rumba para parejas," and Gora Mbaye (who had the lion's share of Volume 1) lends his strong griot tones to a traditional song in Wolof. In 1982, unable to get a recording deal, they broke up: some members joining Etoile 2000 and later hooking up with Baaba Maal. Pape Seck and the vocalists are still alive, so, like Baobab, there are murmurs of a reunion tour, which will be a wonderful thing to behold.


When I and my ilk started collecting African music thirty years ago we never imagined that some treasures, long thought unattainable, would not only be discovered but made available to us. Back in the 1970s while a generation of now legendary bands were performing at the Sangomar nightclub in Dakar, the sound man/owner Moussa Diallo was rolling tape. Adamantios Kafetzis of Teranga Beat, who is devoted to uncovering the great rarities of Senegalese music, transferred these priceless tapes to digital and has identified over 300 songs. Now he has teamed up with Samy Ben Redjeb of Analog Africa to present some of the gems in a new compilation called Senegal 70. The mother of many of the bands of the 70s was the Star Band of Dakar, here fronted by Amara Touré (whose legendary 70s recordings came out on Analog Africa earlier this summer), performing the evergreen "El Carretero" (again in a version never heard before). From Star Band's ranks other groups emerged: Le Sahel, Orchestre Laye Thiam, No 1 de Dakar, Baobab, Dieuf Dieul de Thiès, and Xalam. And from that panoply Laye Thiam is represented with three (previously released) tracks, including "Kokorico" which is pure funk, with blues organ, sung partly in English. Baobab completists will be thrilled to discover two previously unreleased and sublime tracks from them, licensed from founder Thione Seck, captured live at the Sangomar nightclub. There is even room for an odd novelty number, "Viva Maravillas" by King N'gom & L'orchestre Perles Noires du Bénin: all I can say is you've probably never heard anything like it before (though at first it calls to mind "Hit the Road, Jack"), even if it is a cover of a Cuban original. It's Beninois salsa but flows well within the Senegalese mix. Le Tropical Jazz performing "Kiko Medina" is also outstanding. The album is a great mix and flows well. If you are mad at yourself for not getting Escale au Senegal or Latin thing before they went out of print, you have no excuse not to stock up on Senegalese oldies now.


This new release reminds us of the excitement we felt when Youssou first toured the West. He was an energetic young performer and had caught the attention of Peter Gabriel of WOMAD and RealWorld Records, and Gabriel invited his band to open for him on a world tour. This brought him to San Francisco in 1987 and I got to meet him and translate for my friend, Papa Freddy, who interviewed him on his radio show. It was the first in a series of wonderful shows that Ndour put on in Northern California and, as this disc attests, around the world. It was recorded in Athens and has fantastic sound. Actually the set-up was to film a live show of Peter Gabriel and this disc is a by-product. Youssou's set is a mix of classic mbalax and the English pop he was trying to work into the act to appeal to non-Senegalese audiences who had come out to hear PG. This of course became a dilemma as it led to the forgettable "Seven Seconds" with Neneh Cherry (I think it's crap but it has had 10 million viewers on YouTube, compared to 3,000 for one of his classic live performances). Here he is joined by Gabriel for the latter's "In Your eyes," but it's his classics "Ndobine," "Kocc Barma" and "Immigrés" that stand out. There is intense energy here, partly due to the frantic talking drums (sabar, tama and djembe in dialogue) of Assane Thiam, Falilou Niang and Babacar Mbaye, abetted by Habib Faye's popping bass and the smooth sax of Thierno Koite (who has also backed Cheikh Lo and appeared with Baobab and Le Sahel). I am sure the musicians learned from their counterparts on tour: Gabriel had the great Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitar and David Sancious on keyboard, and they step up to perform the hit "In Your Eyes." However this is a Gabriel song and very different from Etoile de Dakar, despite having Youssou wailing in the background. I think they could have left it off, but you can always skip it if you just want the mbalax.

BALBALOU (Chapter Two/Wagram 3322982)

I am trying to figure something out about aging and art. I suppose it should be self-evident that artists who are firey in their youth get mellower with age. We saw it with Baaba Maal and now the great Cheikh Lô (who has just turned 60) has created an album which has flashes of his old intensity, and is produced to the highest level, but is largely easy listening. On the other hand, with age comes wisdom so a stronger distillation of an artist's early essence may become more evident. This new album from Cheikh Lô, his fifth, was recorded in Stockholm. He set the bar high with his 1999 album Bambay Gueej on the World Circuit label. That disc crackled with energy and had an all-star line-up on it, grooving from salsa mbalax to funk and soul. There were Thierno Kouyate (Baobab, Ouza) on sax and Pee Wee Ellis (James Brown, Van Morrison) on horns and arrangements, Richard Egües (Orquesta Aragón) played flute, Oumar Sow (from Super Diamono, Ouza, and Youssou's band) played guitar and other Senegalese & Malian luminaries were present. Lô puts out an album every five years, so it's safe to say he is not a trend follower, he just moves along at his own pace making great songs. He usually includes a telling cover song, such as Bembeya's "Doni Doni" on Jamm. His big influence as a young man was Cuban music but he hangs out with Youssou Ndour and Oumou Sangare, so traditional West African music is more evident in his current work. In actuality however there are only light touches of kora and sabar: it's mostly keyboards and horns with a lot of guitar. Lô is Burkinabe, born to Malian parents, but gravitated to the music scene in Senegal where he became a member of the Baye Fall brotherhood, a Sufi sect who are partly responsible for Senegal remaining a calm place. The album starts with his strongest card: a song about Amadou Bamba, founder of the Mouride Brotherhood. The mellow quotient is signaled by a track with accordion and Flavia Coelho singing, and the predominance of ballads. "Leer Gui Fall" is another religious praise song, with a big horn section and pedal steel guitar. Even a song about revolution is laid back. He often resorts to falsetto so his voice floats off between the synthesized strings and acoustic guitars. Things spark up in the middle with a cover of Sam Mangwana's "Suzanah Coulibaly," sung in French. It's a sad song about a faithless woman but shows the pan-African reach of Mangwana's influence. Then "Balbalou" features Ibrahim Malouf on trumpet. It's a sonically engaging fable in a fine arrangement. And we drift off gently into the night.

1973-80 (ANALOG AFRICA NO 18)

Samy of Analog Africa has taken his foot off the African Funk pedal and switched to a mellower sound, Salsa Africana, the griot appropriation of Latin beats as manifest in Senegal by bands like L'Etoile de Dakar and Star Band. This is definitely a good sign, though the Teranga Beat label has that area of music well in hand. But more is always merrier. Amara Touré is not a household name but had a number of hits in West Africa in the 1970s. Hailing from Guinea-Conakry he started out in Tropical Jazz of Dakar and was a founding member of the Star Band, as a percussionist. He also sang lead on some of their Cuban covers, with a distinctive raspy delivery. He then joined saxophonist Dexter Johnson's Super Star de Dakar (see DakarSound DKS16 and 17). After a decade in Dakar he headed to Cameroun and formed the Black and White Ensemble. A scratchy copy of their "Lamento Cubano" is one of my favorite Latin remakes of this era (teamed up with the other two 45s which have been posted on various blogs over the years). The 45s Touré released with this band form the first six cuts on this compilation, so I am pleased to get a better sounding copy but also to fill out the set because Samy went another mile and found the later work of this enigmatic musician. Touré went on to join Orchestre Massako of Mack Joss in Libreville, Gabon, in 1980 and cut an album with them (released on the Sonafric label), also included here in its entirety. The review copy had no information as to personnel. There is a superb guitarist and also a sultry sax, who is on a par with Dexter Johnson. This is fantastic music and deserves the wider audience new exposure will bring to it. While I am not opposed to bloggers posting music, they rarely clean up the sound or provide informative context. (I am not including Worldservice in this generalization, they have in fact offered some great notes on Amara on their post of his LP, now superannuated, which forms half of this new release.) We should patronize Analog Africa and keep them (i.e. Samy) out in the field doing this exemplary work.

LIVE A L'ETOILE (Teranga Beat)

Teranga set out to bring us great unknown & obscure Senegalese music and quickly moved to the realms of the fantastic: issuing CDs of brilliant, previously unreleased Senegalese music. Clean, clear and an hour and 17 minutes long, this concert showcases the brilliant tenor saxophonist who fronted L'Etoile de Dakar, the mother of all groups that gave rise to so many of the popular bands from Senegal in the 1970s and 80s. Johnson toots his tenor alongside three singers, John Gomis and William and Maīssa Ngom who replaced the departed Laba Sosseh. The repertoire is Afro-Cuban, so there are chestnuts, "Coco Mai Mai," pops up as the chorus in "Para que bueno"; we get "Mayeya (no juege con los Santos)" and "Soy hijo del Siboney," sandwiched around "Something you got" -- a wicked Wilson Pickett rave-up. There's no piano or trumpet and a much more laid-back approach to clave than you find in any Cuban music. The band is relaxed, the guitarists having a good time, Dexter chomping at the mouthpiece waiting to get back on top of the mike with a hot solo. He threatens to leave the singers behind with his flights of fancy, but the coro gives as good as it gets. It's a very well run show, though you get the feeling the recording is picking up mainly the vocal mikes so the two guitars are in the back of the room, but that's not a problem since the reverse is usually the case. Here you can hear the guiro, timbales and congas clearly and there's a fair bit of echo on the other instruments suggesting their sound is coming from amps, bouncing off the walls and then coming through the vocal mikes. This show was recorded in 1969 on the eve of the band's departure for a tour to Abidjan, Ivory Coast (hot on the trail of Laba Sosseh who had taken some of the band and gone to Abidjan ahead of them), so they are certain of their chops, even throwing down a couple of boogaloos among the guaguancos. Dexter was born in Nigeria and had traveled and played in many countries before joining the first Star Band in Senegal in 1957. His playing is grounded in Hi-Life and closer to lyrical American jazz than to the brusque honking of Manu Dibango -- you can also hear how he influenced Issa Cissokho of Orchestre Baobab, in fact you will hear how the Baobab sound comes directly out of this Star Band sound. He is a powerful presence on these recordings, with a reformed group featuring three singers vying to replace Laba, and some hot young percussionists taking up the challenge also. Confidently commanding all is Dexter weaving that old black magic.

VAGABONDE (Teranga Beat CD [or 2 LP] TBCD018)

It is wonderful news that Adamantios Kafetzis of Teranga Beat is continuing to unearth great previously unreleased recordings by West African artists and present them, fully restored, to our ears. His latest foray spotlights the songwriter/singer Mar Seck who, alongside Pape Seck, fronted the Star Band de Dakar and mentored the young Youssou Ndour. Mar Seck also led Number One de Dakar and you have doubtless come across him on some compilations and less-than-ideal reissues/bootlegs of those bands. I often wonder how people listen to music and why they listen to old music repeatedly. I am not thinking of folks that only have a Beatles and a Beach Boys album in their collection, but the outpouring of facebook gush when someone like Lou Reed dies. Suddenly we get far too much information in a big rush and I get the impression that a lot of "friends" secretly listen to the same stuff over and over. Are they trying to recapture a lost moment? There's also that sense of silly one-upmanship of the "I was into Velvet Underground before they were cool" types. I listened to Transformer enough at the time (on the radio) that I never need to hear it again, so people who seek out live recordings and bootlegs must be looking for something. Hearing old Senegalese music, however, creates in me a kind of false memory, I admit. So it's also a nostalgia for something that can never be recaptured because it was never lost. I never made it to those fabled Dakar nightclubs but I do have wonderful memories of laying in my hammock listening to Baobab's Pirate's Choice over and over. The djembe and sabar ("talking drums") and sax and the scratchy Cuba-meets-mbalax sound wraps me in its musical womb. The subtitle of this disc is From Super Cap-Vert to Number One: Unreleased Recordings 1969-80. Teranga found master tapes from three sessions and cherry picked them to present here. The 1969 session was made at the national radio station in Dakar and is pretty raw and ready. The bass is out of tune: not that this is a problem. They do a Compay Segundo song to open. Seck was 18 at the time and his band was called Super Cap-Vert, because Dakar was originally called Cabo Verde by the Portuguese and the islands off its coast became the isles of Cabo Verde. Curiously their second song, "Sibouten," could be Cabo Verdean. The title song "Vagabonde" is a Cuban bolero, sung in comprehensible Spanish. One night the legendary Star Band came to play their little provincial port town, Rufisque, and his friends encouraged Seck to get onstage and sing, since he knew their repertoire. Medoune Diallo was so impressed he offered him a gig with the band. From 1973 comes a soundboard recording made at the Miami Club with the Star Band de Dakar. There's a coro and the guitarists are more polished, though the bassist is still flat (he must have owned the car!). I was thrilled to hear "Taba yo simo," which is familiar from African Fiesta's repertoire, under the name, "Tabalissimo," sung by Rochereau in 1964, as well as a track from Oscar Calle covered by Nico and Rochereau as "Calaboso." Mar Seck admits to a passion for Congolese rumba. In Star Band Mar joined Rudy Gomis, Issa Cissokho, Balla Sidibe, Medoune Diallo and Barthelemy Atisso who would later achieve fame as Orchestre Baobab, as well as trumpeter Ali Penda Ndoye. When the core left to form Baobab, Mar brought in his old friends, including Yahya Fall on lead guitar and vocalist Maguette Ndiaye, to swell the ranks and young Youssou Ndour joined the band as Mar's apprentice for two years. The last two tracks come from Number One de Dakar, another splinter group that was formed after a fight with the owner of Miami over pay when Maguette and Yahya left. Just as Star Band had been the top band in Dakar in the 1970s, Number One went on to be the top attraction in Dakar throughout the 80s and three of their CDs have been released by Dakar Sound and Popular African Music. This is a great hour of Mar Seck's raspy voice and his salsa-mbalax sound. If you are not collecting ALL of Teranga Beat's issues you'd better catch up.


What? -- the eighth Africando studio album, you gasp! What new ideas can they bring to this? I felt they fell off after their first couple of albums (21 years ago already), which were blockbusters, but actually they are right in the groove here. It's mostly the same sound you will know: polished ballroom salsa session guys from New York backing some soulful African singers. They're missing the late Gnonnas Pedro, and refer to him throughout, but the singers are in full throat and the glitterball is glinting. There's Amadou Ballaké, Medioune Diallo, Sekouba Bambino (the vocal star of Bembeya Jazz National), and Roger Shoubou (of Haiti's great Tabou Combo), from the core group on vocals, with added guest shots from James Gadiaga, Jos Spinto, Lokombe, Rene Cabral (from Cabo Verde), and Ray de la Paz with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra all taking turns on the mike! As usual, Boncana Maiga does most of the arranging. And once again the approach to the playlist is familiar: some of the singers' individual hits remade in a new and improved smooth style. They open with a quote from "Doni doni" by Bembeya Jazz, and you would think me remiss if I did not mention that this is an oblique "Peanut Vendor." Jimmy Gadiaga's "Xamsa bopp," a classic from Super Cayor de Dakar, is given the full treatment, even a strident tres solo! Pascal Dieng was also in Super Cayor (this is his second album with Africando) and another Senegalese singer, Bassirou Sarr (ex-Dieuf Dieul) also returns. Oscar Hernandez on piano is solid as is, of course, the swinging electric bass, the cornerstone of any tight salsa dura session. This was recorded in Paris: a good meeting ground for the two musical styles that diverged over the Atlantic and are now reunited. Actually the key player, arranger Boncana Maiga was in Mali when the civil war erupted and couldn't get a US visa but was able to travel to France. The recording is crystal clear, the pots are hot and you can hear every chomp of the guiro, every trill on the bongo, every timbales trinkle, every brassy bomp. "Es para ti Gnonnas" takes the late vocalist's "Von no no no" riff and spins it out as a montuno, with fellow Beninois Jos Spinto taking the lead. And in fine Africando tradition we have singers dying on us. This time it's Raymond Fernandez who recorded "Destino" for the last album Mandali before pegging out, so it has been added in here to remind us of our mortality. Now, it's not all Senegalese salsa: as you know many African countries created their own versions of the Latin beat, and we get a lovely rendering of Ntesa Dalienst's classic rumba congolaise "Maria M'Boka" sung by Lokombe Nkalulu (who was with Dalienst in Les Grands Maquisards. For some reason the classic Maquisards tracks have never resurfaced on CD: you can find "Maria Mboka" on Sonodisc's Merveilles du Passé 1968 1969 [360 155]). Dieng's "Yen Djiguengny" is another son montuno, and seems to be based on "Como esta Miguel" by Sexteto Habanero, but how come I don't have any Super Cayor albums?! They must have recorded at least one. However, the real surprise is still ahead and it arrives suddenly and so inevitably you wonder how it didn't happen before. I am talking about a medley titled "Noche con Santana," that features the hits of our very own Santana: "Samba pa ti," & "Oye Como Va" that segue into "Black Magic Woman." (Yes I know "Oye como va" was written by Tito Puente and Peter Green wrote "Black Magic Woman," they are still identified with Santana who had the bigger hits with them.) Things change up again when electric guitar enters, not for the Santana cut, but for the last Africando track "Bouré Yayé Diama," which then segues into the more familiar guiro, bongo and horn attack. Then we get a guest shot, the redoubtable Spanish Harlem Orchestra perform "Africa Es," which is their tribute to and medley of Africando. Africando deliver abundant surprises and enough interest to warrant your attention once again.

AW SA YONE VOL 1 (Teranga Beat)

Afro-Manding jazz, what does that conjure up? Senegalese jamb kickers? Now we're getting somewhere. I am beyond having my mind blown by the Teranga Beat label, now I just pick my jaw off the floor, hook it around my ears again, and put the CD into the player. This latest foray, their fifth, is yet another previously unreleased session featuring a stellar line-up. The Teranga gang have discovered some tapes that were made by Pap' Seck, famous guitarist of the Guelwar band, who also backed Baaba Maal. With him are singers Assane Camara, Bassirou Sarr, and Gora Mbaye. Their traditional melodies succumb to wailing saxophones, psychedelirious guitar and relentless percussion. There are eight tracks, each 9 or 10 minutes long. It's amazing something so creative never saw the light of day until now. The vibe is loose, the four horns (trombone, trumpet and saxes) are in full accord with solid walking bass; rhythmically entwined guitar and organ add layers over the drums: timbales, tama, sabar and congas. In addition to a fine picked lead guitar style, Seck has mastered that clipped fuzztone sustain that was made famous by Robert Fripp on Eno, Bowie & Gabriel sessions. After stints in Guelewar and Royal Band de Thiès, Seck joined Ouza & ses Ouzettes and was instrumental in their hits with Quatre Femmes dans le Vent, but the band members were not happy with Ouza and when Seck decided to leave Dakar and go home to Thiès they wanted to go with him, thus, in 1979 Dieuf-Dieul was formed. Their first recording session was taken to Paris to be turned into an LP but the producer's luggage, including the reel-to-reel tape, was stolen. They made two further 4-track recordings, hoping to sell cassettes and launch a career but the promoters only wanted mbalax and so the group dissolved. This disc presents half of their recordings: the remainder are promised as volume 2. It's vintage but still sounds fresh, even when the chorus launches into "On verra ça," a refrain made famous by Baobab. Noteworthy are the rhythm guitar of Abdoulaye Camara (who also turns on the flanger when Seck is soloing) and the two sax players who add soulful solos. But then, too, the singers are hot and the complex layering of the drummers add so much to the excitement of the project. The group's name "Dieuf-Dieul" means something like good karma or good deeds creating ultimate benefits. Though they were only together for three years we are now able to appreciate their exceptional polished talents after 30 years, thanks to Teranga Beat.


I am increasingly ambivalent about compilation albums. They are a good way to sample music but not always well-sequenced enough to enjoy in themselves. Increasingly we turn to the internet to learn about music: we can listen to radio shows on-line, google or youtube bands for samples, and even hear whole albums on soundcloud & other sites before buying them. You can discover an artist through a great track and buy the album only to find that the great track is the sole reason to have the album, so from that perspective comps can be useful in saving space and money. On the other hand comps invariably have tracks you have to skip which means you cannot just put the disc on and let it roll. In 2009 Syllart issued a double-disc in their African Pearls series called The Teranga Spirit. I skipped that because it was a recompilation of classic Senegalese tracks from Baobab, Star Band, Star Number One, Ifang Bondi, Guelewar, etc, that I surely have. Now Stern's has issued a double-disc of more modern material, also compiled by Sylla (with two songs from nearly every artist). While personally I prefer the sound of the previous generation, this more modern set has its moments. There are a couple of old-timers: 75-year-old Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane, who had hits in the 60s and then vanished until his debut album appeared in 2011 (he keeps the old Afro-Cuban sound warm and is represented here by three cuts); Idrissa Diop, who toured with Xalam "back in the day" and moved to France, but has now returned to Senegal; and Ndiaye Samba Mboup whose career also stretches back to the 1960s (& shows the enduring influence of Youssou). The other artists are the younger generation: the feel is acoustic and light, almost folky with occasional outbursts of mbalax drumming. There are forgettable tracks and of course loungey moments (which Mark Hudson calls "poolside mbalax"!) as well as hip hop and some other unnecessary contributions. Outstanding among the newcomers are Les Frères Guissé and Ablaye Mbaye who sounds a lot like Youssou with less driven backing. Daby Baldé (whose debut disc and live sequel got rave reviews from me) is included. Simone Sène's raw track, "Léopold Senghor," stands out because instead of guitar and hand drums it has a fiddle accompaniment and is delivered as an anguished complaint. The second disc opens with Yoro Ndiaye in a mode best described as Youssou Lite. I start to get trigger-happy as the synthi backing becomes prominent on disc two, and skip forward increasingly, certain a single disc would have been sufficient. The deal breaker is the muzak version of "Pape Ndiaye" of Baobab performed by Jules Guèye, which leaves a sour taste.

NOOTEE (Stern's STCD1114)

Abdou Diop is from the Casamance region of Southern Senegal. Against his parents' wishes he enlisted in the Army and, in the capital Dakar, ran into Baaba Maal who encouraged him to stick to his Pulaar roots, rather than adopt the Wolof sound of the North. He plays acoustic guitar and has assembled a wide array of talented sidemen for his second album. There's bass and lead guitar and calabash. In addition there's hoddu and flute plus more percussion on some tracks. Three different guitarists guest at different times to increase the variety (they also bring their tunes): the constant is Diop's fine voice and guitar. His lyrics celebrate simple pastoral themes: A man wants to pick fruit but the tree is across a river; to venerate cows they are given salty water with tree leaves and bark as a treat to encourage milk production. The name Casamance always brings to mind that dreamy Touré Kunda album from the 1980s "Casamance au clair de lune (Casamance in moonlight)," which was the best, rootsiest thing that group did before they shot to overnight fame with the Lambada (sic). Diop has a similar dreamy vocal style and when he adds Massamba Diop on tama and Ibrahim Cissokho on guitar things really take off. Baye Mahanta Diop's guitar on "Weliyaade" is also haunting and sets up a mysterious atmosphere over the insect-like percussion and thwack of the hoddu.

BELLY POCK* VOLUME ONE (Syllart 000989)

I have been urged by the gentle folk at Stern's to stop referring to Ibrahim Sylla as "the old pirate," since apparently he may have legal title to the many works he issues. He made a deal with the Guinean government to lease the Syliphone catalogue (since his name is Sylla it is easy to assume he had some involvement with that august label, but he did not). Anyway, according to one source, the president of Mali, Amadou Touré, was so thrilled to hear the songs of his youth again he told Sylla he could have the rights to the catalogue of historic Malian music (quite a slice of musical history) to bring it back. As you know the president was deposed in a coup and who knows if he even had the authority to transfer such rights and whether such a promise is legal. I suppose the sentiment is that it's better to have one African ripping off his brothers than for them to be getting the shaft from white Europeans. I am fortunate because I have been collecting African music long enough to have found a lot of the stuff Sylla reissues back when the artists were getting a cut, or at least it was clear who owned the music that was being marketed. So I didn't need to invest in the African Pearls series or the Gnonnas Pedro or other Salsa Africana discs he has put out (or fall for his deceptive labeling tricks).

Laba Sosseh is from Sénégambia though he made his name as a singer throughout West Africa. This two-disc set is of wildly varied quality, including tracks recorded with Dexter Johnson and some from his Lassissi sessions recorded in the USA. Sad to say though the sound is appallingly bad. The first disc is largely unlistenable: you cannot hear Laba's warm voice, let alone appreciate it. "Seyni," "Aminata," and "El Manicero" come from a Disques MAG album, El Sonero de Africa, vol 1, which I think was recorded at the Djandeer Nightclub in Dakar, though I have an equally thrashed 45 of "Guantanamera" and "El Manicero" from the Sangomar nightclub in Thies. It may be impossible to restore the sound of these but we are fortunate that Sosseh recorded his hits numerous times, so if you don't have any of his recordings, there are many later recordings and reissues on the market (The 1991 self-titled disc on SAR is particularly fine, plus any of the Salsa Africana series on Sacodis). My rare 45 (included here) has fetish value only, it is not something you want to play! Stefan Werdekker, the sage behind WorldService, the most respected African music blog on the net, avers that he prefers the roughness of the early work to the slicker New York sides. I mention that in passing, in case you prefer to explore these things for yourself, and not take my word for it.

After fronting Dexter Johnson's Super Star band in Dakar in the mid-1960s (the best of those sessions are found on Dakar Sound's Serie Sangomar), Sosseh joined the rival L'Etoile de Dakar and his early hits "Aminata" and "Seyni" were covered by Rochereau, Bembeya Jazz and others. A dozen of his Star Band sides were collected by Cantos in 2009 as Classic Titles. He then went to Mali and sang with the Rail Band (before Mory Kanté and Salif Keita's time) for a while before moving further east to Ivory Coast. It was in Abidjan that he made his biggest impression and began recording for Abdou Lassissi. His album Formidable Laba Sosseh (Sacodis LS5-77, 1977), backed by the Liwanza Band (which I am certain is not related to the Congolese Special Liwanza) is included here in great part. This is a good service, as this album is not often found in good condition, but this version sounds only slightly better than bootlegs in circulation from blogs. We get "No quiero el son," "Prepare Candela," "La Portugita," "Aye que no," and another overmodulated take of "El Manciero" from there -- most of the album. Laba Sosseh even went to New York and recorded with Orquesta Broadway and the Cuban sonero Monguito. We begin to get a sense of his exciting performance in the longer cuts like "Abidjan me voy," towards the end of disc one, and the other tracks from Salsa Africana vol 4, which you can download for 89 cents a track on amazon, though I doubt their sound is any better. The main difference between Laba Sosseh and other African salseros is that he was so good he got to play with real salseros (put together by Roberto Torres in New York) instead of Africans who had only heard salsa records and were imitating it on guitars. Much as I love the ersatz Cubanismo of Africa, it does make a difference, so here's Alfredito Valdez on piano and Pupi Legaretta on violin. The logic behind Sylla's approach seems to be quantity is better than quality (this is a ridiculously overpriced import), but the artist would be better served by a single disc combining the one or two listenable tracks from disc one with the bulk of disc two, then omitting the tracks that are presented in differing versions and the last five cuts which are all available on two of his previous CDs (that I reviewed on the Salsa page, after his death in 2007). To compound his folly, Sylla has accidentally included Monguito as vocalists on two cuts from the classic Monguito presents Laba Sosseh in USA album.
*Sylla also gives himself credit for "tracklisting" so you know there's going to be some major typographical errors!

ADUNA (Muziekpublique05)

Senegal has its electric bands centered in the capital, but the interior stretches out to Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali and surrounding countries, and the people, like the Mandinka and Fulani, have heritages that come from the far-corners of old empires. The Mandinka, who are about 11 million in number, are mainly based in Mali, while the Fula are found all across Saharan North Africa. Malick Sow (a Fulani) and Bao Sissoko (a Mandinka griot) are based in Belgium. On this disc we have Sow who plays guitar and hoddu (a small ngoni-like instrument), and Sissoko on kora. Both men sing, and they bring in a calabash player and a couple of others to regale us with modern versions of their tales derived from their long oral tradition. The mood is gentle, wistful at times, and highly conducive to revery. The kora is often set to nursery mode but it's not all lullabies: the hoddu serves up some tight grooves, as on "Ndaw Weinde (It's a beautiful day)," a popular Arabic love song and subsides again on the title cut which shows off the contrast between the two instruments.


One of the problems with trying to do a mainstream compilation is that the world is no longer full of curious people who know nothing about particular musics. With the internet jammed with blogs full of esoteric music, if you are remotely interested in some aspect of music you can find whatever you want on the net, usually for free. Though the US government has moved to shut down filesharing servers they are less interested in going after copyright violators who post music whose copyright is not owned by majors like Warner or Sony. But pursuing the blogosphere can get tiresome: some bloggers are so determined to show you the extent of their hipness they post really obscure stuff which may not be worth hearing. However, sooner or later you may discover what you are after if you persevere. Even with my own eclectic tastes in music I have been amazed to find stuff I did not know existed. Bloggers, like Stefan at worldservice, demonstrate far more knowledge and greater depth of collecting in some areas of African music than me, so I follow his site regularly. Then there are specialist sites that pop up like the new angola 45 site that are quite remarkable.
So this dilemma of trying to appeal to a jaded or at least already somewhat knowing audience is a problem with Rough Guides (and other compilation labels like Nascente or Putumayo): the totally uninformed market is shrinking. The revised Rough Guide to Senegal (due out Jan 28, 2013) starts off with Cheikh Lo and Orchestra Baobab, but if you are at all interested in African music you have all their albums. Yes there's good stuff on here, like Etoile de Dakar and Fallou Dieng, but you also have them on Stern's, right? Sister Fa is bad rap; Nuru Kane is the kind of pan-African jam that doesn't engage you, and so on. Increasingly with Rough Guides you may get the album for the bonus disc, which often was previously issued on the Riverboat subsidiary as part of their "Introducing..." series. The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends (which was rubbish) had a great Syran Mbenza disc as the bonus (It had appeared as Immortal Franco: Africa's Unrivalled Guitar Legend.) The Daby Baldy bonus disc is the reason to get the new Rough Guide to Senegal, unless you got in in 2005 as Introducing Daby Balde. I gave it a rave review back then, as you can read on my Senegal2 page. The main album is full of the usual suspects with one or two unknowns who are unknown for good reason.

KADIOR DEMB (Teranga Beat)

You just know this is gonna be fantastic, right? Royal Band are one of those late-70s, early-80s Senegalese bands that took the old rhythms and cut loose on them with a new energetic sound known as mbalax. Up to now, Royal Band de Thiès was only known in a couple of cuts on the excellent pair of CDs from Dakar Sound: Their Thing and Latin Thing. I have a copy of their album Dioubou -- volume 1 from 1980, from which those four tracks were lifted, and it smokes from start to finish. The early eighties was the era of the Etoiles -- Youssou's Super Etoile and Al-Hadji Faye's Etoile 2000 -- but we cannot discount other contenders. In 2002 Ted Jaspers issued the Meanwhile in Thiès... CD (Dakar Sound vol 9), which had 6 more tracks from the Royals. Kadior Demb is a set of 11 previously unreleased tracks, now presented in sonic high-fidelity. Once more Teranga's GM Adamantios Kafetzis is on the case. He went to Thiès, a sleepy little backwater that was once an important railhead connecting Dakar to the rest of West Africa, in 2004. He wandered into a nightclub and there singing was Adema Secka, the vocalist who had laid these tracks down 30 years earlier. Kafetzis discovered there were three unreleased albums by the band and also met Mapathe "James" Gadiaga, the other vocalist (also of Super Cayor) who had made a career as a West African salsero. After founding Royal Band, Gadiaga was in Xalam, then joined Omar Pene and Ishmael Lo in Super Diamono. He went to South Africa and gigged with Johnny Clegg and spent time in Paris before returning home to found Super Cayor in 1994. Günter Gretz heard Super Cayor and turned us on to them in two fabulous issues: Sopenté (pam oa 206, 1997) and Embouteillage (Traffic jam) (pam oa 210, 2002), but Gadiago knew if anyone heard the Royal Band recordings they had made in the Sangomar Club in Thiès back in the 70s they would want to release them. He was not wrong. This is essential music. The horn players Jackie (Zaky) Seck on tenor and alto and Cisco on alto sax have distinct voices, almost as recognizable as the perfectly balanced salsero and griot lead vocalists! The line-up differs from the large band listed on Meanwhile, where Issa Diasse is credited with the brilliant guitar solos, Ousseynou Yade on tama, and Aly Penda's trumpet; here we have Racine Aw on lead guitar, and Alioune Mbodjet on tumba (& I presume, sabar) to add the finishing touches to the perfect outing.

THIOSSANE (Discograph/Syllart 3247952)

A native of Thies in Senegal, Ablaye Thiossane has waited over 70 years to make his debut. In the early fifties his father used to play Duke Ellington and Tino Rossi 78s which inspired him to take up music, and the then-prevalent Afro-Cuban style. In 1966 he was recognized at the Festival of Negro Art by President Leopold Senghor for his song "Talene lampe yi," which became a hit. He has re-recorded it here, along with a bunch of great material that has that warm feeling of dry West African desert winds. Guests include Papa Noel & Cheikh Tidiane Tall on lead acoustic guitar, Orchestra Baobab's Thierno Kouyaté on alto sax, and their Mountaga Kouyate on percussion. There's also accordeon, electric bass, sabar and other drums. Kouyaté's alternately strong and dreamy sax has been heard on Lat-Dior (when Thierno played with Ouza et ses Ouzettes in 1982), & on Bambay Gueej, my favourite album by Cheikh Lo from 1999. He's even played with Etoile de Dakar. If it seems like old home week: Medoune Diallo, the vocalist from Baobab, also shows up to do a guest shot. The Cuban styles are not completely subsumed in the African idiom: "Thiere Lamboul" has a familiar son riff from Trio Matamoros that has been through the wash with rock, cumbia, soukous, etc, and still not faded. "Bouki Ndiour" is the most laid-back track and sounds like they were really jamming and having fun. Fans of Baobab, Super Cayor and other classic Senegalese bands will love this.

NDIGAL (Teranga Beat PTBCD015)

I thought I was pretty well informed on the history of Senegambian music but here is another mind-blowing discovery. A previously unreleased, hence completely unknown album from the leader of Guelewar & Ifang Bondi, Bal Janha. If you love those bands, and I know you do, you will be all over this like white on rice (as Tina Turner would say). Bal came from Gambia and brought Psychedelic rock to the mbalax sound of Dakar. The resulting soul and funk stew supplanted the Cuban sound and led to the dominance of Afro-Manding pop music throughout West Africa for more than a decade. Karantamba was a band he created that became a fertile school for younger musicians in Dakar. This recording was made at the famed Sangomar night club in 1984. The vinyl release has a bonus track (for once) while the 9 cuts on the CD deliver an hour and twenty minutes of pure bluesy, soulful, steaming bliss. The sound is sharp, especially when the "African" trumpets come in, but you get used to that. I thought such trumpets were off-key until I was at a Bembeya Jazz concert with an African friend and when the trumpets started playing he nudged me and said, Now, that's the sound of African horns! Track five, "Titi," changes the mood as it is a highlife number, but it's all good & they go back to the Senegambian rave-up. The last track, "Gamo Jigimar," is outstanding. It's 12 minutes of musical bliss and makes me wish I had a radio show again so I could play it & exhort you to rush out and buy it.

(Oscilloscope Features; Elizabeth Vasarhelyi, director)

A fine full-length documentary on Youssou Ndour that gives a good retrospective of his career and also centres around his recent Egypt album which was a breakthrough for him in many ways. Youssou has one of the greatest voices in Africa. I remember him on his first US tour, being taken by his humility and especially his energy and the wild dancing that went on during his show. But over the years he changed and we saw his shows become more rock spectacles and less the night in the small club we longed for. So we glommed onto Baaba Maal and others 'til they too caught a whiff of the International jetstream and tried to get that important gig with Bono, Bob Geldoff or Peter Gabriel. While to Youssou getting a Grammy Award and having a top-ten hit with "Seven Seconds" were a big deal, those were indications of him losing his authenticity to many of his fans. Though it struck out in a completely new direction, Egypt was a turning point and I thought the best thing he had done in a decade. But surprisingly the Egypt album was not a hit at home. The Senegalese unilaterally rejected it, some even calling it blasphemous: A pop singer was not supposed to sing religious music. There was even a rumour he had half-naked dancing girls at the tomb of the prophet Mohammadou Bamba, making a video. Police had to intervene to prevent a riot. Youssou explained how Umm Kulthum inspired him, he used to listen to her songs with his father, and she had the ability to unite all Arab nations. But the Senegalese were usually left out of the equation, despite being a Muslim and predominantly Sufi nation. And Youssou's trepidation is apparent when he meets the Cairo orchestra because, though he is fluent in Wolof, French and English, his Arabic is pretty shaky. Nevertheless the Egypt cycle debuted at the Sacred Music Festival in Fez, and despite Youssou's nervousness that he was just the singer, not the arranger or conductor, and had to follow directions like the rest of the large group, it was an artistic triumph. The background music, editing and filming of this documentary are superb. A simple moment, like Youssou washing his feet backstage at Carnegie Hall, surrounded by framed signed portraits of Leopold Stokowski, etc, becomes profound. In addition the early footage of Youssou with Super Etoile in their heyday is wonderful. For those of us who never got the opportunity to see the big Cairo string ensemble backing Youssou on his "Egypt" tour, this film is the next best thing.


I have some pretty scratchy Super Diamono albums in my collection, so it's great to hear cleaned up (if occasionally overmodulated) versions of their best songs. From the period 1982 to 1984, Cantos has taken five of their albums and put together a tight set of 11 solid tracks, all of them featuring both talented vocalists Omar Pene and Ismael Lô, as well as sabar (talking drum), guitar, keyboard, and horns. Half of the tracks on here were smash hits in Senegal and Gambia in their day. The band had been in existence since 1975 but only released sporadic singles. In the early eighties they recorded three albums at Club Baobab in Dakar and then two more on a trip to Paris. Their career parallels that of Youssou Ndour who also started with a band called "Diamono" (which means "Generation"), hence the name change to Super Diamono in 1975. Like the Super Eagles in neighbouring Gambia, Super Diamono moved away from the Latin format of their contemporaries to adapt folklore to modern instruments. Adama Faye their guitarist and keyboard player adds jazz and funk to their sound. He is a pioneer of that ragged frayed lead guitar sound on fuzztone that we love on those early Senegalese albums. His keyboard tends to a wash of strings with occasional jazz solos. He also thought of bringing the sabar to the lineup to create an m'balax beat. While playing in Gambia in 1980 the group came across 24-year-old Ismael Lô, performing on acoustic guitar and harmonica as a Senegalese "Bob Dylan," and he was quickly inducted into the ranks of the Diamono collective. Cantos has clearly found the original tapes here, because the songs are unedited and have been remastered splendidly. One curiosity: track six, "Nitki" has the same progression as "Sympathy for the Devil"! Four of the cuts come from their electrifying 1982 cassette "Casamance" and it is truly wonderful to hear them again, as if for the first time.

INEDITS 70s (Cantos)

While better known that Super Diamono, Star Band's work is in worse state of preservation. A lot of their early cassettes are shrill and sound like the playback heads had sandpaper on them. Nevertheless Cantos has entered the field with a retrospective album of rare material. Quite recently Sylla put out a 2-CD set of Starband Number One, the splinter group led by Pape Seck, that broke off from Star Band. I compared the tracklist on Amazon with the published Starband No 1 CDs (two on Dakar Sound, DKS6 & 19, and one on Popular African Music, PAM307). Apart from one track, "Nongui Nongui" that appeared on DKS5 "Double concentrée," only 5 of the 26 tracks had not been collected before (unless, as is often the case, the names have been changed). For this collection, drawn from the period 1978-9, Cantos shows the birth of the mbalax sound with the young Youssou Ndour, as well as Omar Pene, Ismael Lô, Laba Sosseh and Pape Fall. Surprisingly very little of this material has been heard before outside of the original cassettes. "Thieli" & "Mane kouma khole thi yao" (one of my all-time favourites) appeared on STCD3004, volume 1 of Stern's 4-disc retrospective of Youssou. "N'deye n'dongo" and "Litie Litie" have popped up on more obscure collections, but here is a straight shot of the early Star Band doing what they do best. Track two is a romping cover of "El paso de encarnación," first performed by Antonio Machin and popularized by Larry Harlow. There are still some of the Baobab-like ballads with a latin tinge, trumpets and so forth, but the sabar comes to the fore and the timbales recede as the set goes on.