Senegalese Voices: Daby Balde and Cheikh Lo

AAJ Staff By

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The West African nation of Senegal is home of two of the biggest stars in modern world music, Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal, whose output has ranged from sabar drum-driven mbalax and other local styles to Sufi meditational music, rumba, hip-hop and dance music. Entrancing a generation of global fans with their distinctively sharp, direct vocal style and socially aware lyrics, these two icons have opened the door for equally versatile musicians like Cheikh Lo (whose 1996 debut N'Dour produced) and the younger Daby Balde (brand new on wax).

Daby Balde
Introducing Daby Balde
World Music Network

The latest artist to join World Music Network's Introducing series of international debuts, which has previously exposed talents like South African maskanda musician Shiyani Ngcobo and the Malagasy all-star Vakoka project, comes from the Casamance music of southern Senegal.

Daby Balde, a 36 year-old vocalist and guitarist who lives in Dakar, came from a noble Fouladou family which wasn't too keen on his decision to be a musician. He got his first big break as a vocalist in the mid-'90s with the Kolda Regional Orchestra, around the same time he got his first guitar, then was invited to perform at festivals in Belgium a few years later. This enjoyable debut was recorded in Senegal and Belgium with musicians from both countries. It's uplifting, peaceful and euphonic music overall, hugging the center and avoiding sharp edges.

Balde's voice on these thirteen songs is commanding and bright but never shrill or piercing, more or less in service of the overall musical flow. He sings in Fula, Wolof, Mandinka and French, sometimes intermixing languages, emphasizing social themes relating to respect, love, hard work and faith. The liner notes include partial English translations of some of the lyrics.

It's hard to dissect all the influences at play in this music, but it most obviously reflects the lilting rhythms and softer instrumental sounds of Casamance. The core string instruments (guitar/violin/kora) interweave with each other and light, peppery percussion, occasionally augmented by unobtrusive accordion and saxophone. The production, credited to Tech- Record, is crisp, clean and well resolved. Be sure to check out the mpeg video of "Mamadiyel" that comes with the CD, which helps place the music and motion in perspective.

Cheikh Lo
Lamp Fall

Cheikh Lo faced no small task in following up the "ocean of peace" he served up on Bambay Gueej (Nonesuch, 1999), a start-to-finish masterpiece of modern West African music brought in collision with rhythms of Cuba and the Congo. During the intervening six years, Lo has expanded his sphere of influences.

He makes simultaneous nods to both James Brown and his spiritual leader, Cheikh Ibra Fall, on the slippery title track, which translates to "Light of Fall" and refers to Baye Fall, a Senegalese form of Islam. The piece makes abundant use of an amphibious bass attack and builds upon saxophone riffs by none other than Pee Wee Ellis himself, back in the flesh from Lo's last album.

Lo has also done some traveling, including some time in Bahia, where he worked with producer Alê Siqueira. Look no further than the massively dense dance-trance piece "Senegal-Brasil" for a surreal fusion of expanded Brazilian carnival percussion with the talking drum and rolling Wolof vocals. Lo has always been partial to the talking drum, which plays a melodic role in his music (especially in the hands of Samba N'Dokh), but the drum orchestra is a blast of fresh air.

Lo goes back to Cuba for "Sante Yalla," which has the signature pace and singing guitar lines of Orchestra Baobab twisted into the mix, making it a more revelatory companion to the good-times opening track on his last album, an adaptation of Guillermo Portobales' "El Carretero."

This musical travelogue, recorded in Bahia, London and Dakar, does not flow perfectly smoothly. (What's up with the techno remix version of "Kelle Magni," and who decided to put that in the middle, rather than at the end of the record?) But the errors on Lamp Fall fall on the side of experimentation, not safety. And when those experiments work, the results can be glorious.

Tracks and Personnel

Introducing Dabe Balde

Tracks: Mamadiyel; Heli; Kaye Waxma; Tamania; Waino Blues; Sora; Mbadi; Halaname; Fouladou; Douna; Hakurujamane; Mbeugel; Mido Waino.

Personnel: Moutarou (Daby) Balde: lead vocal, guitar; Elhadj Soumare, Abdoulaye Samb: guitar; Abdoulaye Ndiaye: bass guitar; Wouter Vandenabeele: violin; Philippe Thuriot: accordion; Christian Derneville: saxophone; Ousmane Sane: percussion; Djiely Mory Tounkara: kora; Ndeye Mansata Bodian, Mariama Kouyate, Adama Balde, Sadio Wandianga: vocals.

Lamp Fall

Tracks: Sou; Lamp Fall; Xale; Kelle Magni; Senegal-Brasil; Sante Yalla; Toogayu M'Bedd; N'Galula; Sama Kaani Xeen; Babma Mo Woor; Fattaliku Demb; Kelle Magni; Zikroulah.

Personnel: Lamine Faye, Adson Santana, Davi Moraes: guitar; Pee-Wee Ellis: saxophone; Erick Firmino, Etienne Mbappe: bass guitar; Samba N'Dokh: talking drum; Thio M'Baye: percussion.

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