Sunday, March 4, 2007


So we ended up going to Youssou N'Dour's club Thiossane last night. As it turned out, he wan't playing. Sounds like he's gone alot. In Paris, touring, wherever... here pretty rarely actually. As I assumed, there was a killing m'balax band nonetheless. The group was led by vocalist Abdougide Seck, and had two sabar drummers, one tama (talking drum) player, two guitars, two keyboards, bass, drumset, backing vocals, lead vocals, and some guest dancers. He had two fantastic guest vocalists come up and sing a tune or two, and its fascinating to hear the myriad variations here on the classic, Islam-derived almost altimssimo register these guys all sing in. Soaring, nasal melodies over burning rhythms and hypnotic guitar/keyboard/bass ostinati. Everyone in the group is essentially a drummer.

We arrived a little before 2am and there was a sleepy acoustic guitarist and keyboardist warmup act, then a comedian. He had a kind of Cedric the Entertainer vibe, but in Wolof. Needless to say, his humor was lost on me, but the crowd patiently enjoyed his jokes, and before too long it was time for Mr. Seck's band to begin.

His brand of m'balax was similar to M'baye Dieye Faye's (the concert I blogged about the other night) but somehow more poppy. Maybe the fact that Mbaye Dieye Faye ha six sabar drummers with him made things that much more raucous. Nonetheless, Mr .Seck's group did what any good m'balax band must do; inspire people to dance. Seems like most of these groups (from seeing these two and hearing a bunch of other m'balax on the radio and cds/cassettes) adhere to some pretty hard and fast guidelines; major pentatonic 6/8 over 4/4 tunes with 6/8 bridges (sometimes minor), and double-time shout choruses as it were. The effect when the music takes off is palpable and always manages to bump up the energy level a couple notches. This is pop music, ultimately, so its doing what people are expecting it, requiring it to do.

Interestingly, the term "jazz" here means a lot of things, none of which seem to have anything to do with the ding-ding-a-ding standard Stanley Crouch and others have set for jazz to be authentic. Proof once again that jazz is a global music and the argument that it must adhere to 1910-1955 American standards is short-sighted, Western-centric and, ultiamtely, elitist. Fascinating actually, since here anything downtempo, instrumental, or even folksy singer/songwriter oriented seems to fall under the jazz moniker. More on this as I understand it better. I'm going to Gambia tomorrow or the next day so I'll have to investigate this more deeply when I return to Dakar March15.

Just had some delicious Yassa for lunch. White rice, friend onions/peppers in a mustard/oil/pepper sorta sauce with grilled chicken. We ate out of one large bowl in traditional African style, and I had to put down my spoon before to long as the penchant to keep ingesting mouthfuls of rice and assorted goodies tends to inflate one's stomach, and my tummy felt a little sensitive yesterday, so I want to make sure to take it easy.

Off to sabar lesson #6 in an hour or so. More to follow...

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