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El Hadj N'Diaye
World Village / Siggi Musique

cd cover This is the first international release for the multitalented El Hadj N'Diaye. The Senegalese guitarist is also an actor and social activist. His acting credits include parts in classic films by noted novelist/director Ousmane Sembčne ("Camp de Thiaroye" and "Guelwar"), significant for their raw social commentary. More than just a pretty face, though, N'Diaye is currently the arts director for the non-governmental organization Environment, Development, and Action (ENDA). So it's not surprising that his music reflects his progressive consciousness.

"Casa di mansa"
It also breaks boundaries. N'Diaye's music is not formulaic mbalax. Though most songs are sung almost exclusively in Wolof, the music is light and delicate, and bears a Latin flair. Take the instrumental "Sama Guitare" ("My Guitar"), for instance, which begins with a Spanish-tinged guitar line, joined by N'Diaye's plaintive ode to his guitar (Alain Renaud adds his as well). The song recalls the fabled work of Mande guitarists like Baaba Maal's favorite axman Mansour Seck, or Guinean Manfila Kante. Xel contains a good number of acoustic arrangements, but the electric ones are not in any way inferior. The first cut, "Xel" ("Reason"), begins with a moderately distorted lick, and as vocals, emphatic but sparse bass, and sprinkled percussion add in, it sounds like things will explode from the tension. But "Xel" sets in to simmer, never boiling over, though talking drums spatter here and there as the groove bears down. In the same vein, though perhaps more mellow, is "Mengo" ("Together"), in praise of Nelson Mandela. With the exception of N'Diaye's vocals, every instrument takes on a percussive quality. Though the song is not mbalax, it takes that style's peppery rhythm, stripping away thick instrumentation and leaving the skeleton exposed: the pure concept of mbalax.

"Xale Bi"
And if you don't want to read the lyrics in the excellent liner notes (translated into Wolof, French, and English) to understand N'Diaye's social conscience, have a listen to "Xale Bi" ("This Child"). N'Diaye laments the fate and suffering of street children, asking us to see it as an international problem: "Look at this child/ He's coming from Rwanda/ This other one from Bissau." What's more, it's quite melodic. - Craig Tower

CD available at cdRoots

Audio ©2001 Siggi Musique, used by permission

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