Tag Archives: Cheikh Lô

APAP 2020: “Risk and Resilience” Part II

Part II: The Stand-Outs, APAP Global Music Showcases  

The seriously fun part during APAP’s annual conference in New York City is deciding which showcases to see, then hopping all over town to catch a great deal of superb music.  My focus is usually pretty much international. 

globalFEST

This year’s globalFEST at the Copacabana was a joyous curatorial triumph. Most of the 12 showcases from Tibet/U.S.A., Ethiopia/ U.S.A., Louisiana/U.S.A., Senegal, Algeria/France, South Korea, Turkey/Netherlands, France, Hungary, Brazil, West Africa/France, and Venezuela/France were high energy acts.  You’d dash from one floor to another to witness intense, frequently danceable rhythms and often, dazzling musical virtuosities.  

Yungchen Lhamo

Yungchen Lhamo – Photo Evangeline Kim

The one “quiet” exception at the evening’s start was U.S. based Tibetan star Yungchen Lhamo.  Dressed in a resplendent traditional robe and headdress, it was as if a goddess had sprung to life from a thangka painting.  Her Buddhist songs and chants were deeply meditative as she cast her spell of utter peace and compassion for all sentient beings.  Her sweet vocals seemed filled with nostalgia and longing for the snowy mountains of the Himalayas. At one point she led the room in intoning OM as her voice took ecstatic flight.

Cheikh Lo

Cheikh Lo – Photo Evangeline Kim

Among my favored showcases, Cheikh Lo, one of Senegal’s great, popular Sufi-inspired singer-musicians and his band were on precise point with their splendid and fervent mbalax rhythms.  They are mesmerizing to experience and difficult to tear away from — just as his early “Ne La Thiass,” the deliriously beautiful 1996 album that was then on constant play with world and African radio hosts as well as my cd player.

Equally absorbing, though it was hard to decide which I preferred the most, South Korea’s Ak Dan Gwang Chil or Algeria/ France’s Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda. 

Ak Dan Gwang Chil

Ak Dan Gwang Chil – Photo Evangeline Kim

Billed on the globalFEST program notes as “Korean shamanic folk funk, Ak Dan Gwang Chil’s performance was stunning in contrasts.  The backbone of the group are the instrumentalists, drawing on ancient shamanic ritual music. Deeply focused, they played traditional zithers, drums and  percussion, flutes — as the fronting trio of women singer-dancers seemed their foil. Those women could rival a flashy K-Pop group with their coordinated sass and antics and tongue-in-cheek contemporary/traditional costuming.  At times the trio comes across as a kind of riotous Korean vaudeville act. But the overall shamanic-based music is powerful and transcendent, almost haunting.

Sofiane Saidi

Sofiane Saidi – Photo Evangeline Kim

Much as I have always loved 80s North African rai music, Algeria’s Sofiane Saidi, along with the French trip-hop funk-oriented, electronic-grooved group known as Mazalda, came across indeed as the next “Prince of Rai 2.0.”  He has the charm and easy swagger of a star. Add his innate sense of “bonhomie” as he danced shoulder to shoulder across the stage with the musicians, as he created celebratory infectiousness among the whooping crowds. 

Les Amazones d’Afrique

Les Amazones d’Afrique – Photo Evangeline Kim

Three from West Africa’s vivacious women’s star collective, Les Amazones d’Afrique, Mali’s Mamani Keita, Benin’s Fafa Ruffino, and Guinee’s Niariu, had a glittering stage presence.  Their costuming ranged from Fafa’s glorious Dutch wax butterfly-sleeved robe, to Niariu’s red sequin tunic with a trail of fish-netting and heavy metal rock star platform boots. I loved their fierce feminism, denouncing violence and mistreatment of women.  The group carries some of the great regional traditional griot melodies, especially by Mamani Keita; and their drummer and guitarist synced well with those grooves, beats, and phrasings. However, their French DJ pushed the electronic envelope a bit too much.  But when they shimmied and danced together, they were irresistible. Their resilience dominates.

Tufan Derince

Tufan Derince – Photo Evangeline Kim

The outstanding virtuoso musician for the night was Turkey’s Tufan Derince and his elektro baglama — accompanied by singer and keyboard player.  Their specialty is electric Kurdish wedding music. Song descriptions in the set list read “impassioned song without a dance beat,” “uptempo wedding dance,” and “fast wedding folk dance”  Their music is gleeful and watching Tufan Derince’s breakneck speed fretwork with squealing psychedelic slides carried the ancient baglama to stratospheric heights.

Meklit

Meklit – Photo Evangeline Kim

When I first saw Ethiopian-American Meklit during Winter Jazzfest a few years ago, I was knocked over by her stage presence, reminiscent, I thought, of Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, and Dorothy Dandridge all rolled into one bright new persona.  This hasn’t changed, Meklit’s only gotten stronger as a consummate entertainer-singer-songwriter. While she now accompanies herself occasionally with the Ethiopian krar harp, her backing musicians, sax, bass, drumkit, and double-headed tupan drum, mesh tightly with her vocals and compositions. Meklit’s musical poise and passion, her laughter and big smiles, are invigorating, lovely.

Winter Jazzfest 

While globalFEST remains a compact showcase festival over one evening along with its 2 day long Wavelengths pre-APAP conference forum, Winter Jazzfest (WJF) continued to expand its showcase ‘empire’ geographically in New York and over 10 days. Both are major musical events with stimulating discussions and talks during APAP. 

This year WJF expanded programming to Brooklyn, taking over 6 more venues in Williamsburg and Bushwick — besides New York City’s multiple venues stretching over lower Manhattan. Judging from all the packed rooms everywhere in Manhattan — besides the impossible-to-get-into shows, demand for WJF programming grows unabated.  (Although I’d hoped to see Seu Jorge and James ‘Blood’ Ulmer this year, the press lists were closed.)  

Each year, the WJF program booklet reads like a handbook of current historical activism towards a more humane and just world. The main theme of the talks this year centered on wellness and health: “Alternative and Non-Traditional Approaches to Wellness in Music,” “Navigating Healthy Relationships in the Arts,” “Organizations Caring for Musicians: Supporting Recovery from Substance Abuse, Depression, and Illness,” and “Environmental Activism and Jazz: The Power of Music on Global and Physical Health,” for example.

I finally made it to the UK Jazz showcase hosted by Gilles Peterson at Le Poisson Rouge, after previous year press list requests to no avail. No wonder.  It has the reputation of one of the best WJF events. The room was completely jammed with ecstatic fans. Gilles Peterson, the UK’s musical entrepreneur extraordinaire, going back to the 80s acid jazz days, continues to embrace vast swaths of international musical ground as a great BBC 6 radio host, club DJ, music producer, and record label head.  The UK is a rich and fertile region for so much music and Peterson ‘discovers’ much of the best.

Ashley Henry

Ashley Henry – Photo Evangeline Kim

Showstopper for the WJF UK evening was young British pianist Ashley Henry whose new album “Beautiful Vinyl Hunter,” his loving mix of jazz, hip-hop, and pop, with several guests is a listening pleasure.  He stepped onstage looming taller than Randy Weston, compressed his lanky frame like an accordion and seated himself on a low chair below his keyboard. With a pared down trio — drum kit and upright bass, and vocalists, his playing jostled references to Hancock, Monk, Jamal.  But his style was simple, confident, easy-going, happy too, as he stretched out phrasings with bell-like ostinatos.

Poppy Ajudha

Poppy Ajudha – Photo Evangeline Kim

Earlier, one of former President Obama’s recent favorites, feminist neo-soul singer Poppy Ajudha, skanked, wove, and dipped lithely, as she delivered her conscious lyrics about race, gender, class.  

Sarathy Korwar Band

Sarathy Korwar Band – Photo Evangeline Kim

The riotous drummer, Sarathy Korwar with a group of rappers from Mumbai and New Delhi, Sunny Jain of Red Baraat fame on dhol, and more musicians — sax, keys, drums, blended and clashed jazz, hip-hop, and spoken word with Indian melodies and rhythms.  All three, Henry, Ajudha, and Korwar, confront and address discrimination and social injustices in their ethos.

Hailu Mergia & Band

Hailu Mergia & Band – Photo Evangeline Kim

During the WJF Marathon weekend, the revered Ethiopian musician Hailu Mergia appeared at SOB’s.  Alternating between Rhodes piano, organ and accordion, his band was spare, just bass guitar and drums compared to his earliest days with the great Ethiopiques Walias Band era with their signature blasting brass.  Yet their sound was peerlessly powerful. There is tenderness and yearning in Mergia’s playing, his touch. Too many keyboard players and jazz pianists pound away at their instrument relentlessly. But nuance is key to Hailu’s minor-scale modalities infused with American soul and Ethiopian funk.  

La Bulla at DROM

Billed as “La Bulla – A Ruckus of Music,” this was a first-time Latin APAP showcase, featuring salsa, cumbia, vallenato, Afro Latin Jazz, and neo-ranchera. I made the last two performances and they were both excellent:  fresh, non-stop dancing energies by emerging younger groups.  

People of Earth

People of Earth – Photo Evangeline Kim

People of Earth, a wonderfully gifted global collective, with horns, percussion, strings, and fronted by 3 singers with roots in Cuba and Switzerland/Argentina, burned through their mix of rhythms and songs from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil and other parts of the Americas.  The group may be young, but they’re seasoned musicians already with 8 different nationalities. They kick their rhythms in such elation together. Yet at heart, their collective music is a commitment to social change and inter-cultural dialogue.

OKAN

OKAN – Photo Evangeline Kim

The Toronto-based OKAN duo, Elizabeth Rodriguez, violinist from Havana, and Magdelys Savigne, percussionist from Santiago, are both Grammy and Juno nominees. They sing about love, immigration, and courage in sweet harmonies and with a delightfully lively stage presence. They blend their Afro-Cuban roots and influences, the Santeria religion and folk rumbas, with jazz and multi-ethnic references — and backed by a strong rhythm section, bass, drums, keyboard.  While a quintet, their music can swing with the power of a big-band orchestra.

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra/ Symphony Space

Arturo O’Farrill’s ALJO with Sofia Rei and Pablo Aslan – Photo Evangeline Kim

I missed Arturo O’Farrill last year, sold out at Winter Jazzfest, and this year at the very first La Bulla Latin showcase.  Following APAP, I was determined to see his “Jazz Across the Americas: ARGENTINA — A Tribute to Lalo Schifrin” concert at Symphony Space.

O’Farrill is one super charged musical genius  (See Arturo’s interview in Part I.) 

Multiple Grammy winner and nominee, he once said, “I made one rule for myself, and I really try to live it: Play music you love, with people you love, for people you love. If I can’t be that kind of musician, I’ll drive a cab.

Plowing through the frigid sleet the night of January 18th, I finally got to Symphony Space to listen to Arturo O’Farrill on piano and as artistic director with his full 18 member orchestra.  Never one for sentimentalism in his tributes, he delved into some of the greatest moments in Argentina’s musical history with the intensity, drive, and focus of a true master. As a pianist, his touch is mercurially swift, light-hearted yet assertive, and this tempers the sound of his orchestra.

The evening blazed with Lalo Schifrin’s “Gillespiana Suite,” written by Schifrin in the early days of his career for Dizzy Gillespie.  This was the first time the suite was performed in over 25 years with Pablo Aslan, the Argentinian-born bassist, composer, and producer as conductor. French horns, tuba, and one more trumpet reflected Schifrin’s original composition.  As O’Farrill wrote in the program notes: “This celebration of the Maestro and of his beloved Argentina is exactly what the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra was created for.” When you listen to Schifrin’s and Gillespie’s earlier recordings of the suite and compare it with O’Farrill’s live concert, a revelation takes place.  The live tribute traverses and encompasses Argentina’s richly diverse and multi-layered rhythms (American blues, pan-America, Africa, Europe) with O’Farrill’s stylistic inflections, and it’s a thrilling experience.

The Buenos Aires-born star, Sofia Rei, one of the featured guests and introduced as “a force of nature” by O’Farrill, mixed the traditional with contemporary as she sang songs by the Argentinian folkloric artists, Leda Valladares and Cuchi Leguizamón. Much touted Leo Genovese on keyboards and Franco Pinna on drums and percussion were her bandmates, as the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra rounded and expanded their sound con brio.  Later, she reappeared singing one of her co-compositions with lyrics by Sandra Cornejo, “Todo Lo Perdido Reaparece.” A big, merry syncopated rhythm, she accompanied herself on the charango — joined by Juancho Herrera on guitar and cuatro.

The orchestra’s evening repertoire paid tribute to so much of Argentina’s musical legacies: There was beautiful romance and pensiveness in “Llegará, Llegará, Llegará” by Emilio Solla, and drama in “El Minotauro” by Guillermo Klein.  Famed conductor and musician, protege of Pablo Aslan, Gabriel SenaneS appeared with his ”Lalo Cura La Locura.” Enthralling, piquing, the audience — the sprightliness of “Tanguajira” composed by Pablo Aslan and arranged by Gabriel Senanes made tango a delicious form to savor. The orchestra’s finale was the “very sexy” (Arturo’s words) “Tanguango” by Astor Piazzolla.  What a breathtaking show it was.

Arturo O’Farrill strikes towards greater knowledge of vistas and horizons in Latin jazz and world music with his phenomenal non-profit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance.  Look into all that it is.  Support it. And listen to Arturo’s recordings if you miss seeing him play live.

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Significant Music Festival Colours of Ostrava 2018

The annual music festival Colours of Ostrava will take place July 18-21, 2018 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

The lineup this year includes Oumou Sangare, Cheikh Lô, Dobet Gnahoré, Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita, Ziggy Marley, Calexico, Dirtmusic, Radio cos, Debashish Bhattacharya, BraAgas and many more.

Colours of Ostrava is a multi-genre music festival organised annually in Ostrava since 2002. The festival features international acts, including world music artists.

More at www.colours.cz

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Masterful and Electrifying Ne La Thiass

Cheikh Lo – Ne La Thiass (World Circuit, 2018), reissue

In 1995, while Coolio’s “Gansta Paradise,” TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” and Madonna’s “Take a Bow” were floating on the airwaves of Western pop stations, a wonderful collection of songs was cutting a swath through the musical streets of Africa’s Senegal. It just so happened that musician, singer, songwriter, composer and studio owner Youssou N’ Dour came across a demo by fellow Senegalese musician and composer Cheikh Lo.

Setting up Mr. Lo, along with percussionists Assane Thiam and Mbaye Dieye Faye and guitarist and arranger Oumar Sow, into Mr. N’Dour’s Xippi Studio in Dakar, the recording Ne La Thiass was born. Mr. N’Dour went so far as to lend his own vocals to that of Mr. Lo’s on the tracks “Set” and “Guiss Guiss.”

So, while we were being browbeaten by overplayed songs like Hootie &the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You” and Nicki French’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the good people of Senegal were dancing to Ne La Thiass’s “Boul De Tagle” and “Cheikh Ibra Fall.”

In 1996, World Circuit Records corrected this injustice by releasing an enhanced version of Ne La Thiass and the world was set to rights again as world music fans around the globe were treated to the Latin-flavored Senegalese goodness of Cheikh Lo.

Mr. N’Dour would go on to record scores of albums such as 7 Seconds: The Best of Youssou N’Dour, Joko: The Link and Africa Rekk, win a Grammy Award for 2004 album Egypt, appear as Olaudah Equiano in the movie Amazing Grace and earn an honorary doctoral degree in music from Yale University. Mr. Lo would go to record such albums as Bambay Guieej, Lamp Fall, Jamm and Balbalou, as well as collaborate with Cuban pianist Ruben Gonzalez’s on his recording Chanchullo singing alongside the esteemed Ibrahim Ferrer and work with Les Nubians and Manu Dibango for the Fela Kuti tribute recording of Red Hot and Riot.

So, now it could be that the planets have aligned just so or that we’ve been very good (this might be a bit of a stretch) that fate has once again smiled down upon us. Of course, it could just be the person at World Circuit sent to rummage through shelves and boxes that we owe our good fortune. This sweet luck would be the re-issue of Ne La Thiass from its original 1995 cassette tapes. Available on vinyl, CD and digital down load, with color booklet, Ne La Thiass has been lovingly remastered and has hit the streets.

Even after more than 20 years, Ne La Thiass hasn’t lost a bit of its keenly addictive appeal. It takes only the barest listen to opening track “Boul Di Tagale,” to fall under Cheikh Lo’s spell.
Weaving a magic spell out of vocals that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, acoustic guitar, double bass, flute, electric bass, keyboards, some truly spectacular mbalax rhythms and talking drum (and those who don’t like a good talking drum are out of the club), Ne La Thiass is masterful and electrifying as it makes its way through treats like title track “Ne La Thiass,” the feel-good feel conjured on “Ndogal,” the plummy rhythms of “Set” and the sweet swing of “Cheikh Ibra Fall.”

The intricate rhythms of “Bamba Sunu Goorgui” and the Youssou N’Dour vocals laced “Guiss Guiss” are additional icing on the cake that is Ne La Thiass.

There’s always that moment before listening to a re-issue where you wonder if it will be as good as you remembered. With Ne La Thiass it’s not as good as you remembered – it’s better. So intensely addictive, this is the music that if you listened to it all the time you’d never get anything done. And, I doubt you’d care.

Buy Ne La Thiass

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Artist Profiles: Cheikh Lô

Cheikh Lo - Photo by Bernard Benant
Cheikh Lo – Photo by Bernard Benant

Cheikh Lô is one of the great trailblazers of African music. A superb singer and songwriter as well as a distinctive guitarist, percussionist and drummer he has personalized a variety of influences from West and Central Africa, to create a style that is uniquely his own.

Lô dedicates both his life and music to Baye Fall, a specifically Senegalese form of Islam and part of the larger Islamic brotherhood of Mouridism. Established by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba M’Becke at the end of the 19th century, Mouridism emerged from opposition to French colonialism and many fabulous stories are told of Bamba’s struggles with the authorities who feared that the rapid spread of Mouridism would inspire armed insurrection. Bamba’s closest disciple Cheikh Ibra Fall (also known as Lamp Fall) established the Baye Fall movement, and he was the first to wear the patchwork clothes and long dreadlocks that are still Baye Fall trademarks today. Cheikh Lô’s own marabout, Maame Massamba N’Diaye is said to be over 100 years old, and was a disciple of Cheikh Ibra Fall; Cheikh Lô wears his picture in a pendant around his neck.

Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Senegalese parents in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali, where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali), Wolof (language of Senegal) and French. His father was from a long line of marabouts. From an early age Lô was only interested in music, running away from school to teach himself guitar and percussion on borrowed instruments.

During his teens he listened to all kinds of music, especially the Congolese rumba which was popular throughout Africa. Cuban music was also all the rage in West Africa at this time, so when his older brothers started up their 78s and danced to ‘El Pancho Bravo’, Cheikh, without understanding a word, would mime exactly to the Spanish lyrics.

 

Cheikh Lô
Cheikh Lô

 

At 21 he started singing and playing percussion with Orchestra Volta Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. The band played a variety of music from Burkina Faso and neighboring countries, as well Cuban and other styles.

In 1981 he moved to Dakar, Senegal where he played drums for the renowned and progressive singer, Ouza, before joining the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing an international repertoire.

In 1984 he moved to Paris and worked as a studio session drummer. He recalls: ”Studio – sleep – studio for two years. I love Congolese and Cameroonian music and I absorbed a lot of it during this period”. On his return to Senegal he found that his (now very long) dreadlocks made him no longer entirely welcome at the Hotel Savana so he concentrated on his own music.

Cheikh’s first cassette ‘Doxandeme’ (‘Immigrants’), on which he sang about the experience of being Senegalese abroad, came out in 1990. Despite his reservations about the quality of the local production, it sold well and earned him the ‘Nouveau Talent’ award in Dakar. The following year he started to work on the compositions for his album ‘Ne La Thiass’.

Youssou N’Dour first encountered Lô as a session singer in 1989. “Whenever he sang the choruses I was overwhelmed by his voice,” explains N’Dour, “but I really got to know him from his cassette ‘Doxandeme’. I heard his voice and said “wow” – I found something in his voice that’s like a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali”.

Lô continued to develop his own repertoire, holding out for better recording conditions for his next production. In August 1995 Youssou N’Dour agreed to produce the next album at his Xippi Studio in Dakar.

 

Cheikh Lô - Ne La Thiass
Cheikh Lô – Ne La Thiass

 

On this album ‘Ne La Thiass’, Lô is joined on vocals by Youssou N’Dour (‘Guiss Guiss’ and ‘Set’) and by musicians from N’dour’s Super Etoile de Dakar. Lo’s signature sound – a semi acoustic, Spanish-tinged take on the popular mbalax style – was an instant success in Senegal gaining him a dedicated local following. ‘Set’ – a plea to clean up the streets during a Dakar municipal strike, was broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the country in a campaign by the Ministry of Health.

 

Cheikh Lô
Cheikh Lô

 

Ne La Thiass was released internationally on World Circuit in 1996 and followed by a highly successful European tour. His early performances prompted rave reviews.

In 1997 he was awarded Best Newcomer at the Kora All-African Awards in South Africa and the following year he toured the US, as part of the ‘Africa-Fête’ line-up that included Salif Keita and Papa Wemba. In 1999 he received the prestigious ‘Ordre National de Merite de Léon’ from the President of Senegal.

Cheikh’s second album Bambay Gueej (World Circuit) was released in 1999. It was co-produced by Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour in Dakar with additional recording in Havana and London. Expanding on his previous album, he drew on sounds from Burkina Faso, Mali (with guest Oumou Sangare), and incorporated touches of Cuban son (with Richard Egues on flute) and funk (with Pee Wee Ellis of James Brown fame on saxophone).

His eclectic mix was furthered on Lamp Fall (World Circuit 2005) by his discovery of Brazilian sounds and rhythms and he traveled to Bahia, Brazil to work with acclaimed producer Alê Siqueira (Tribalistas, Omara Portuondo). These Brazilian recordings were coupled on the album with sessions recorded in Dakar and London.

For the next few years Lo withdrew from the international stage and immersed himself in the Dakar scene playing regularly with his own band. This return to home is reflected in his album ‘Jamm,’ His which blends semi-acoustic flavors, including West and Central African, Cuban, and flamenco.

In 2015, Cheikh Lô received the World Music Expo (WOMEX) Artist Award.

 

Discography:

Ne La Thiass (Saprom Productions, 1996)
Bambay Gueej (World Circuit, 1999)
Lamp Fall (World Circuit, 2005)
Jamm (World Circuit, 2010)
Balbalou (Chapter Two, 2015)

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