by Opiyo Oloya

The once prodigous flow of new albums by internationally acclaimed Senegalese artists like Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal have slowed down to a trickle, but Senegal continues to deliver strong "new artists" who are hard to ignore. In fact the three Senegalese artists featured below are not quite new-comers to the game, although they may be new to you.

Yande Codou Sene, the 65 year old Senegalese singer whose international Yande Codou Sene debut album, Night Sky in Sine Saloum (Shanachie) was released recently, can move mountains with her positively poetic voice. Chosen long ago to sing the praises of former president Leopold Sedar Senghor, Sene finally agreed to give mere mortals a taste of the quavering voice that reverberates with a metallic edge. From the opening track, "Salmon Faye" to the amen in "Natangue", the diva rises with powerful incantations that are as rich as they are warm.

The album retains a potent "village" atmosphere in which Sene and a few friends sing as if they are having a great time on a moonlit night at the village square. The call and response style is exploited to the fullest as Sene's voice rises, falls and dodges in and around the accompanying female chorus. There is minimal interference from the assortment of percussionists and instrumentalists who keep a respectable distance from the reknown singer and her co-conspirators.

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Meanwhile, Mansour Seck, the blind Senegalese poet and childhood friend of Baaba Maal returned with the third international album in as many years. But unlike the previous two albums where he experimented with modern arrangements, Yelayo (Stern's) burrows deep inside the rock of Toucoluer culture to extract the sweetest of all honey; the songs of griots.

Mansour Seck There is an unhurried preamble to each song, much like an old story-teller who spends time filling an ancient tobacco pipe before launching into the story. Indeed, once started, Seck pours out his soul as he has never done before. As his sensous voice rises with plaintive pleadings, his acoustic guitar answers and before long, the chase is taken up by the parched growl of the huddo and the eager tinkle of the 21-stringed kora. There is no escape here, once taken you are hooked for good.

After listening to Yelayo one concludes that Seck has finally broken off from Baaba Maal's bright star to forever fly on his own wings, free as the swallow who will sip water and sleep on his own terms. Where he goes, only he knows.

And that brings us to Ismael Lo, the Senegalese singer who has flirted on the brink of stardom for a long time but has never quite made it. But that will likely change with the wide distribution of Jammu Africa (Mercury) which was released last year, but until now, got only limited recognition in North America.

Jammu Africa refuses to be pinned down to any genre; at one moment you move to the tama-driven mbalanx beat on the track "Takou Deneu", then suddenly you are whisked away by the dry acoustic guitars on the track "Tajabone". The track "Without Blame" on which Lo duets with Marianne Faithfull was surely an unnecessary show-off (and some might also argue, a copy-cat act after Youssou Ndour's 7 seconds with Nene Cherry or Wasis Diop's collaboration with Lena Figbe on No Sant), but elsewhere, Lo redeems himself as the superb singer song-writer whose sense of melody is keenly tuned like his guitar.

A voice all on his own, Lo places himself in every impossible place where he perform vocal somersaults, and he passes all the tests with flying colours. In the end, one is confounded by whether Lo is a better singer than he is a guitarist. Then, again, why bother worrying about such matters when you are wading deep in groovy music? Moreover, the one thing Lo will not be accused of on this album is that he is boring, for he does not allow you to predict his next move.

So, with such tough opening acts, is there any good words left for another artist? Well, yes, especially if that artist happens to be Tito Paris, a known quantity in his homeland of Cabo Verde and elsewhere in Portuguese speaking world. The crooner who sings in Creole and Portuguese has made his first serious foray in North America with Graca de tchega (Musicor).

Part nostalgic, part romantic, and backed by a crack team of musicians, Paris waltzes through love songs and poetry before letting loose some serious Gumbe music on the tracks "Kantador" and "No Intende". Call this the slice of the spice from the islands of sunshine, and you are not too far off the mark.
- Opiyo Oloya


1. Mansour Seck (1997) YELAYO-- Stern's Record
2. Ismael Lo (1996) JAMMU AFRICA-- Mercury Record
3. Tarika (1997). SON EGAL-- Xenophile
4. Thionne Seck (1997) DAALY-- Stern's Record
5. Yande Codou Sene (1997) NIGHT SKY IN SINE SALOUM-- Shanachie
6. Samite (1996) SILINA MUSANGO -- Xenophile
7. Tarig Abubakar & AfroNubians (1997) HOBEY LAIK. Festival Dist.
8. Virunga Volcano (1997) VUNJA MIFUPA-- Festival
9. Zehkul (1997) AMON-- Le Disque Bro.
10. Tito Paris (1996) GRACA DE TCHEGA-- Musicor

The previous edition of Afrodisc is available

Opiyo Oloya is the host of the radio program Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM Radio, Toronto. The show airs on Saturday 4:00 PM- 5:00 PM.

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