Notes on The Rough Guide to Senegal:
General: far more cohesive than I expected from a country with a lot of musical styles. In fact, track by track, this is excellent.
Problem: If there’s a general theme here, it’s world music crossover. As such, “Thiely” doesn’t fit. Also, when the record goes acoustic toward the end, the quality dips. I’ll elaborate on that in a minute.
Mitigating factor: Introducing Daby Balde, the bonus disc, is that rarest of beats, an goddamn actual bonus — a fine 2005 record that shows up the tail end of the proper record for its own mediocrity, Balde being an excellent example of good folkloric Afropop. (Pay attention to the beats, but also the telling musical details. Christgau notes that Balkan is an influence, via — get this! — Belgium. What a great world we live in!)
Let’s take a look at this track by track:
Jamm/Cheikh Lo: Great opener. Moody, hypnotic. Influenced by soukous as well as mbalax, though I’d say there’s more of the former than latter. Nice caesura on the refrain, insinuating trumpet line. Also, it’s worth noting that we have acoustic guitars and electric bass here. From the 2011 album of the same name.
Ami Kita Bay/Orchestra Baobab: Of the two songs I know on this record, this one sets the tone of this compilation: extroverted, cosmopolitan, eager to please. Baobab make explicit in their music Senegal’s great debt to the Cuban music that they — by which I mean Senegalese and Baobab especially — improved upon. Great guitar solo from B. Atisso, as usual. I once shook his hand and thanked him for temporarily giving up his law practice so he could make music again. I wonder if he remembers that — or even understood me?
Ndiatigue/Mansour Seck: This is Senegal in griot mode, or at least what I have come to understand as such. The acoustic numbers are a problem on this record, but not on this track: the theme is hypnotic, the beats take you somewhere, and the electric bass syncopates like good reggae.
Amy Jotna/Sister Fa: One hip hop track is enough for this compilation, and in fact this song is one of the highlights. It’s said that Afropop hip hop doesn’t translate very well to English speakers (maybe the Spanish speakers in Calle 13 softened me up?) but this one has a great balance: compelling beat, memorable chorus, with the rap itself working the verses. Also, really nice use of a looped sample — actually, I didn’t even notice this song boasted a sample until the very end, when the music makes the appropriation explicit.
Bayil/Nuru Kane: singer-songwriter, bass player. I say “singer-songwriter” because a great deal of thought is given to the chord progression here, which is more complex than is usual in Afropop. Fortunately, he’s also a bass player, which you can’t really say about American singer-songwriters — a real good one, actually. The guitar break here is just awesome — really incisive. A winner from an artist I didn’t know — this is what compilations like this are for.
Weex Bet/Fallou Dieng: another strong track, this one in dance mode. That breakdown at the end really gets this mother airborne.
Thiely/Etoile de Dakar: One of the most epochal Afropop songs ever. It’s on every Etoile comp worth owning, and sets the tone for the titanic Music in My Head comp. But what’s it doing here? It’s far too grungy for this company, like a pickpocket wending through a clump of German tourists. Regardless: let’s take a moment to take in this fucking awesome track. That climax, where the drums bang in unison with the lead vocalists, is definitely one of those give-me-your-money-now-motherfucker moments. And that sonic orgy at the end! In short, the main reason I give more of a shit about this kind of music than, say, Tegan and Sara.
Baydikacce/Baaba Maal: This is exactly what I mean about the Etoile song not belonging. This is a masterful track, from the horn/flute lines to those intertwining guitars and Maal’s moaning vocal, but the opening synth drum figure, following Etoile’s barbaric congas, doesn’t jibe. Usually I find Maal a little on the uptight side, but this track is righteous. Also dig that loosey-goosey breakdown where the bass takes over, then segues to what could very well be a bonus song around the 4:30 mark.
Sey/Africando All Stars: A key track, acknowledging explicitly Senegal’s debt to Cuba — granted, this is via one of those all-star crossover projects that often doesn’t work, but I’ll note this is the only track on the record that you can hear one of those Disco Fuentes piano lines. Of the two pianists credited on this record, one of them is “Oscar Hernandez,” who Allmusic.com tells us was born in 1891, died in 1967, was a member of Kid Creole and the Coconuts (who recorded in the ’80s) and participated on this record, which was released a few years ago. A son of a son of son, perhaps? All I know is, this would never have happened on Thom Yorke’s page.
Soukabe Leydam/Ousmane Hamady Diop & Mansour Seck: This is actually from a Mansour record, regardless of the billing. Diop is the guest vocalist here, but is actually secondary to the fluttery guitar. Much inferior I think to the first Seck track, and if you were going to repeat an artist, why not Maal or N’Dour?
Diamono/Amadou Diagne: Although I’m of the mind that this record takes a dive as of the previous song, this is probably one of the strongest of the final four predominantly acoustic numbers, mostly on the basis of the urgent vocal, doubled at the octave. Apparently won some sort of “battle of the bands” contest that led to his debut, last year’s Introducing (this was that record’s third track). I’m assuming his debut will be packaged in The Rough Guide to Senegal Music (Fifth Edition) sometime in 2019.
Senegal-Mali/Diabel Cissokho: Didn’t notice this track before. Dig that gallumping beat. This song comes from an album from last year which translates to “Don’t Run From Your Ethnicity.” Great vocal arrangement here. It occurred to me that despite what I thought originally (electric-acoustic dichotomy) the last few tracks are actually new-guard Senegal, whereas the record opens up with the classics.
Talibe/Ismael Lo: I don’t know what I was thinking, but this closer hits hard. Vocal with guitar and harmonica, barebones, actually the perfect way to close a record full of music with all kinds of American influence.
I would say this is a very strong A-.
Later: it looks like “Thiely” didn’t appear on the Rough Guide N’Dour compilation, but did appear on the first Etoile comp on Sterns way back when.