Alioune Kassé
Tinder Records (

I was pleasantly surprised by this CD. Judging from the cover art, which is an obvious echo of Etoile de Dakar's Thiopathioly's wooden-skiff-on-beach scene, one might have expected a Youssou N'Dour copycat attempt. True, Kassé's voice is a dead ringer for N'Dour's in the upper registers, and the synth-padded mbalax numbers are reminiscent of Super Etoile de Dakar after Set. However, there are other influences discernible in the sound such as the melodicity of Xalam and the scurrying horn breaks of early Dande Lenol. There's just enough originality to make Kassé sound not quite like anyone else, and the album is quite enjoyable, but he has yet to achieve a truly distinctive sound to call his own. Actually the CD is a bit too polished--I'd like to see him in concert to see if he stretches out more with his crackling percussion players in front of an audience. - John Cho

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