Words by Nigel Williamson
It’s five years since Cheikh Lô’s fourth and final album for the World Circuit label but thankfully little has changed in the Senegalese singer’s rippling Afro-Cuban rhythms. His voice still maintains a gentle caress and his music still has a serpentine funk. But there are fresh, subtle and unexpected nuances here too, as his new Swedish producer Andreas Unge nudges Cheikh in an even more expansively cosmopolitan direction. The opening track, ‘Bamba’, adds plangent piano to the familiar talking drums and riffing horns. ‘Degg Gui’ features a soupçon of tango accordion and a vocal duet with the Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho. ‘Doyal Nanniou’ is a protest song, Cheikh berates African politicians with diva-esque support on the final climactic verses from the mighty, wailing Wassoulou voice of Oumou Sangaré.
‘Gemou Ma Ko’ is a lovely, kora-based lullaby and the title-track has a late-night Afro-jazz funk groove, floating on some haunting Miles Davis-influenced trumpet from Ibrahim Maalouf. Fears that the famously laidback Cheikh might struggle to match his previous work without the drive and energy of producer Nick Gold from World Circuit behind him have proved unfounded. Balbalou is the equal of any of his previous albums – and that is high praise indeed.