Monday, July 23, 2012

Baaba Maal et Dande Lenol - Wango (1987)

Moments after entering the Berkeley record store, on my way home from work, the clerk, who was familiar with my weekly Friday visits, said: "Check this out!" He put this record on his deck and filled the shop with Massamba Diop's tremendous tama. This was my introduction to Baaba Maal et Dande Lenol, so many years ago, and it opened a whole new avenue in my obsession.

Wango, simply put, is a masterpiece. Every song is exquisitely crafted and performed. Dande Lenol was incredibly tight on this perfectly recorded and mixed album, a definitive Sylla production. The rhythms are complex and urgent, and Maal's singing is sublime.

Two of the songs, "Laam Tooro" and "Loodo," are electrified versions of the well-loved acoustic versions on the earlier recorded, yet later globally released, Djam Leelii. Wango is a great way to start your week, as it has mine.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thione Seck - Le Pouvoir d'un Coeur Pur (1988)

Recorded in Paris with his band Raam Daan, this strong album from Thione Seck reprises songs from cassettes that had made him a household name in Senegal, following his divergence from Orchestre Baobab.

On this record Seck's majestic voice towers above complex, driving rhythms, while the horns and guitars weave an almost jazz-like improvisational thread through the mbalax, especially on "Yaye Boy." I prefer the B side of this record with it's two tremendous, urgent mbalax songs and the final, reggae-fied ballad. It is impossible to sit still, listening to it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Baaba Maal - Taara (1990)

Baaba Maal has moved well beyond the role of innovative musician on the world stage. Recently he was named Oxfam's Global Ambassador to bring global attention to the food crisis in Africa. He has a unique voice to lend to a cause, one that was consistently awesome through decades of many recordings. While I became increasingly dismayed by the homogenized, transglobal sound of his later records, not able to listen to Television at all, his early recordings still resonate with complex rhythms and an authentic vision.

Taara sits on the edge of Baaba's move towards global stardom, retaining the tough Dande Lenol sound of the wonderful preceding recording, Wango, while pointing towards the ever more electronic future. A typically strong Ibrahima Sylla production, Taara layers European horns and keyboards on the core guitar/percussion/voice that made Dande Lenol such a potent band. Massamba Diop's tama is killer, like always, but it is Baaba Maal's voice that sails above all and keeps it together.