Unmitigated Senegal

Kasumai – Senegal: Urban Rhythms

Senegal: Urban Rhythms (ARC Music EUCD 1929, 2005)

The title of this one concerned me a bit. I thought perhaps the phrase “urban rhythms” meant an album full of unnecessary modernization, drum machine enhancement, maybe some rap and hip-hop elements, that sort of thing. Turns out I had nothing to fear, since what we have here is a cracking good cd of mostly unplugged Senegalese music laced with the sounds of the kora (21-stringed harp), acoustic guitar, vocals and ample West African percussion with some unobtrusive keyboard here and there.

Kasumai’s founder and leader is Sagar N’Gom, who played percussion alongside the U.K.’s Martin Cradick in Outback and the initial lineup of Baka Beyond before forming Kasumai in the mid-’90s. The group honed their skills playing the unencumbered traditional style of music associated with the southern Senegalese region of Casamance, which is pretty much what they stick to on this recording.

Meditative kora-led songs alternate with jumping tracks dominated by the drums (djembe, sabar, tama) while the namesake tune “Kasumai” rings out with a stately Cuban rhythm of the sort long popular in Africa. The group furthermore acknowledges the inspiration of artists such as Toure Kunda
and Baaba Maal, evident in the feel and phrasing of a song such as “Le Travail.” I took an instant liking to this disc, quickly forgetting my apprehensions about the title, and it’s grown sweeter with each listening.

A must for lovers of straight up Senegalese music, and one of the best releases of the year so far.

Buy Senegal: Urban Rhythms

Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.