Royal Band De Thiès - Kadior Demb
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Royal Band De Thiès
Kadior Demb
Teranga Beat (www.terangabeat.com)

For any fan of Senegalese music in the second half of the 1970s, a time when the country’s electric big band sounds truly came into their own thanks to the emergence of mbalax and performers such as Idrissa Diop, it’s hard to believe the Royal Band’s 1979 recording, Kadior Demb, is only now finding a release. But it’s true, this masterpiece of proto-mbalax, recorded live in the studio by a band still in existence to this day, is only now being heard. It’s as gorgeous vocally as anything Orchestre Baobab ever committed to wax, as rhythmically proposal as Youssou N’Dour’s old band, Etoile de Dakar, and as revelatory as the aforementioned Diop’s work with multi-instrumentalist Cheikh Tidiane Tall.

This project’s manifestation happened quite randomly, however. Teranga Beat label owner Adamantios Kafetzis paid his first visit in 2004 to Thies, a city that became more prominent in the early 20th century as railroad track connected it to the nation’s capital, Dakar. Curious about music, he stumbled upon the Royal Band, which still featured vocalist Adama Seck (Secka), also heard here, in a local club. From there, he started digging into the town’s musical history and found it rich, if frustratingly underappreciated. As it turns out, a club owner and producer, Moussa Diallo, had recorded unreleased reels of the Royal Band that had managed not to lose a bit of their original sound quality; in fact, anyone listening to this LP will get the sense of being in the same room with the band.

As for the music, it’s a mixture of guitar-driven minor key intensity, not unlike the best Syliphone recordings from nearby Guinea, and simmering ballads punctuated by horn blasts, and swept along by the swapped lead vocals of Secka and Mapathe Gadiaga (James). Within a few years of this recording, the onslaught of Youssou N’Dour’s updated mbalax, the slick studio “world” polish of Baaba Maal and eventually rap, would wipe out interest in the older, Cuban-influenced styles of bands such as Baobab. Perhaps the Royal Band got caught in between these trends. They were never as overtly Afro-Cuban as Baobab, but the use of a horn section, as well as the slower tunes, aligns them with the older styles. But it’s the ferocity of tracks such as “Cherie Coco,” and “Kouye Magana,” and the early hints of mbalax-focused groove of the track “Mariama,” that make this recording important. And hearing this now, it’s baffling that they never achieved the success of many of their contemporaries. - Bruce Miller

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