Words by Mark Hudson
That Senegal has an acoustic singer-songwriter scene (as opposed to a traditional music scene) has been apparent for at least a decade with the emergence of traditionally inflected singer-songwriters such as Daby Baldé and Les Frères Guissé. But from outside it has been difficult to tell if this was a miniscule niche largely bankrolled by Western record labels or a genuinely significant local phenomenon. The answer, judging from this lively compilation, is very much the latter. Alassane Seck Guèye’s interesting liner notes argue that this tendency has been there at least since independence, with artists such as earnest folkie Soleya Mama and politico-experimentalists Xalam providing an alternative to the Senegalese pop mainstream represented by Youssou N’Dour and mbalax (the fusion music of Western pop and soul with Latin and Senegalese sabar music).
Most of the musicians here weren’t even born when those artists were in their prime. There are some fantastic old timers, such as raw-voiced troubadour Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane and veteran griot Ndiaye Samba Mboup here but there’s also a real sense of an emerging new sensibility that belongs to the here and now. While Seck Guèye implies that this music is somehow at varience with mbalax, several of the tracks, such as Yoro Ndiaye’s ‘Xarit’, are essentially tuneful, semi-acoustic mbalax, and none the worse for that. Daby Baldé adds a tuneful Fulani element. Trumpeter Jules Guèye brings the majestically throaty tones of Wolof diva Kharr Mbaye Madiaga to what would otherwise be a piece of poolside jazzy mbalax. A couple of tracks verge on the inspid and there a few clunky synths, but this an entertaining and enlightening set, full of characterful voices and memorable melodies that walk the line between tradition and modernity in diverse way. Most heartening is the emergence of a number of exciting new women singers – such as Queen Biz and Mariama Kouyaté – twisting traditional flavours with the subtlest shades of rap, R&B and reggae.
TRACK TO TRY: Halaname by Daby Baldé