Jamm (World Circuit DO84, 2010)
Senegal’s Cheikh Lo, he of the long dreadlocks, multicolored quilt-like attire and Sufi spirituality, stands out even among the many outstanding musicians his country has given the world. Ever since his absolutely smashing, Youssou N’Dour-produced debut CD Ne La Thiass in 1996, he’s been variously intensifying or refining the rhythms of mbalax (the drum-heavy Senegalese style that N’Dour popularized) by lacing them with Latin, pan-African and funk sounds.
Jamm is the title of his latest, and while it does indeed contain both monster jams and pensive moments, the title is the word for peace in Senegal’s Wolof language. Peace is one of many concerns Lo sings about in his easygoing manner, also touching upon such things as materialism, emigration and tolerance while musically paying tribute to such African predecessors as Bembeya Jazz and Laba Sosseh.
As to the music itself, begin by considering that in the liner notes, Lo describes the album as a cocktail. To my ears, it’s been shaken and stirred just right. Cuban inflections fuel the title track and Seyni, Bourama rolls with an Afrobeat swagger, Ne Parti Pas lilts in somewhere between highlife and nuevo flamenco and Sankara provides a mid-point acoustic cooling down in praise of Burkina Faso’s most renowned president.
Players like saxophone master Pee Wee Ellis and drummer Tony Allen see to it that both the groove and the melody (Lo was a percussionist before he was a guitarist, after all) are tended to properly. Lo’s previous trio of albums are all highly recommended excursions beyond Senegalese borders. Count this one in and make it a foursome.
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