Oct 142010

Ismaël Lo – ‘Dabah’ and ‘Sénégal’

When it comes to Africa, the western part of the continent seems to enjoy an almost disproportional status amongst lovers of African music. In particular, the countries of Senegal and Mali are most notable in this respect. Now whilst most have heard of Youssou N’Dour and Baba Maal (both from Senegal) and Ali Faka Toure, Toumani Diabaté or Omou Sangaré (from Mali) as well as Anjelique Kidjo (Benin) and possibly King Sunny Ade (Nigeria), few I suspect have heard of Ismaël Lo. If this is true, then it is a great shame and something that I hope to correct here.

Ismaël Lo was born in Nigeria in 1956 to a Senegalese father and a Nigerian mother; the family returning to Senegal shortly after Ismaël was born. After studying art in Dakar he started a solo career in 1970. Lo plays guitar and harmonica and sings in his native language, Wolof, and at times in French.

Now recording on the French ‘Barclay’ label, he has to-date made eight recordings. The two I want discuss here are ‘Dabah’ (sometimes simply, but erroneously, known as ‘Ismaël Lo’), his sixth and the first with Barclay, and ‘Sénégal’, his eighth and latest recording.

Dabah (Wrass 043)

Image: Amazon

1. Aiwa
The moment you hear the introductory triangle clatter, you know you’re going to be listening to a ‘feel-good’ record and will soon be wearing a smile on your face. Against a solid percussion and bass rhythm, Lo sings a gentle ballad.

2. L’amour a tous les droits (Love has every right)
Playing harmonica and guitar and against an orchestral backing, Lo sings in French about ‘love having every right’. Again possessing a good beat, which will have you toe-tapping, if not bopping about the room.

3. Biguisse
If the last track did not get you moving, then this one will! With a driving, almost reggae beat, this is ‘good time’ music at it’s best.

4. Amoul Solo
A complete change of mood here, ‘Amoul Solo’ is a gentle ballad sung in Wolof, backed with impeccable playing.

5. Dabah
The title track of the album, this is another soothing ballad with the occasional atmospheric chorus and choir.

6. Boulfale
Similar to ‘Aiwa’, another pop ballad sung against a firm but controlled percussive backing and a nice guitar solo interlude.

7. Faut qu’on s’aime (You must love one another)
Lo’s appeal to ‘love and peace’, with a toe-tapping rhythm.

8. Africa Democratie (African democracy)
Lo’s only political track. Despite the French sounding title, Lo sing this in Wolof, yet the chorus is in French. With a good bouncy beat, this is another feel-good track and one of optimism: “Pas de coup d’état, vive l’africa democratie”.

9. Diour Sani
Despite a strong percussive rhythm, this is a lovely soothing and gentle ballad. Put this on and relax. Without actually knowing what Lo is singing about, this appears to a life-affirming song as evidenced by the young child joining in at the end.

10. Badara
Another slow and soothing ballad with a lovely soprano saxophone solo – provided by Nicholas Genet and later a harmonica solo by Lo.

11. Ma Dame
A change of gear into another, infectiously toe-tapping song – again this is one to get you moving around the room. There is some nice marimba percussion on this track that dances over a solid rhythmic beat.

12. N’Dally
This is about as close as Lo gets to ‘stadium rock’. Possibly an exaggeration, but you can imagine the audience swaying their arms above their heads and shouting out the chorus.

13. Xalas
Against a complex bongo percussion and bass rhythm, Lo sings another pop song in Wolof.

14. Mam
Finally to round off the album, another bouncy track that appears to be a life-affirming celebration, with strong percussion and bass accompaniment.

The most noticeable aspect of this CD is the superb drumming and percussion displayed. For that, we have to thank respectively El Hadji Faye and Ndiaye Habib.

The accompanying booklet, printed in English, acknowledges the musicians but, unfortunately, does not quote the lyrics. The booklet contains some nice ‘National Geographic’ style photographs.

Music quality – After my enthusiastic review, I must give it 10/10.

Recording quality – Like a lot of modern recordings, this is detailed and clear with an acceptable sound stage. It does unfortunately display restricted dynamic range, however this is not too irksome, 9/10.

Sénégal (Wrass 183)

1. Baykal
A slow ballad sung with chorus and sophisticated but discrete orchestration – soothing and relaxing.

2. Incha Allah (If God wills it)
Another soulful ballad; presumably reflecting on one’s destiny.

3. Tass yakar
Starting off simply with harmonica, guitar and xylophone, the song develops into another nice bouncy number that will soon have you tapping your toe or nodding your head.

4. La Jola
Another track with an infectious rhythm – this song seems to be a hymn to Lo’s native country Senegal (and possibly Gambia).

5. Taar yakar
Again if the last track didn’t get you moving, this one will! With what appears to be an annoying chorus, this track is nevertheless joyous and life affirming.

6. Manko
This track follows the last in a similar vein and is driven along by impeccable percussion, brass and guitar, with some discrete synthesiser backing.

7. Yaye boye
A gentle, soulful ballad, having a simple guitar and chorus and with a touch of violin and harmonica – very soothing.

8. Plus je fais ci, plus je fais ça (The more I do this, the more I do that)
Another bouncy track with a near reggae beat. This will have you moving about the room.

Everyday I don’t do this, I don’t do that
Everyday I don’t do this, I don’t do that
Then you make this or you make that
Since I can walk
I want to go around the earth
Since I have open eyes
I want to know my brothers

Then I make more of this, I make more of that
Then I make more of this, I make more of that

Of that I knew how to speak
They told me to be silent
When I wanted to love you
You promised me Hell

Then I make more of this, I make more of that
Then I make more of this, I make more of that

They’re one of the regulations, they have rituals
They have codes
It’s necessary at all times to follow the regimes and modes

Then I make more of this, I make more of that
Then I make more of this, I make more of that

Everyday I don’t do this, I don’t do that
Everyday I don’t do this, I don’t do that

Then I make more of this, I make more of that
Then I make more of this, I make more of that
The more I make of this, the more I make of that
The more I like this, the more I like that
Oh! I like that more

9. Mbindane
A simple guitar based slow ballad with nice piano accompaniment.

10. Wakhal
Starting with a Spanish guitar – style opening, this track switches into a brisk bouncy song with an annoying ‘vocoder’ effect on Lo’s vocals.

11. Ouvriers
Sung against relentless and distracting percussion, this track is a fairly run-of-the mill pop song.

12. Jiguen
Again with rapid complex percussion and touches of mariachi style brass, this is another infectious pop song.

13. Ma fille (My daughter)
Sung in French, this is a love song to Lo’s daughter Marie. Simple guitar accompaniment and chorus make this one of the most endearing tracks of the album.

I did not feel the time passing
However it went by
Here, you left me aged

So nice, I always see you as a small girl
However you grew
As a butterfly does from a caterpillar
You are going to make your life

Marie – – – Daddy
Marie – – – Daddy

It is all for my honour but it is really hard
It is for your happiness and there I am sure
To see you leaving for your new home
Leaves me with a gap in my heart

Marie – – – Daddy
Marie – – – Daddy

I would not like to see you suffering
I wish you the best in life
I can only force my smile
Oh – it is your life

Marie – – –
You remain my daughter for life
Daddy – – –
Oh Daddy ha ha ha

Marie – – –
Oh Marie hi hi hi
Daddy – – –
You remain my daughter for life

14. Tajabone
One of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear. With harmonica and gentle orchestral backing it is a perfect track with which to end the CD. Released as a single in Europe, it rightfully became a hit.
“Tajabone is a Muslim holiday, similar to Thanksgiving, and like Thanksgiving is celebrated with the cooking of large meals. Children go from house to house to entertain by singing and dancing, and afterwards they will be given money or rice or wheat or biscuits. In Islam you are commanded by God to pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan, so when you die the angels will ask you the questions mentioned in the song –

A more commercial album than ‘Dabah’, possibly over-produced and because of that it is, for me, a less successful one.

The accompanying booklet, printed in French, contains the lyrics to all the songs, both those sung in Wolof and those in French. It is from the latter that I have made a clumsy translation.

Music quality – 8/10
Recording quality – 9/10

Both of these are fine albums with which to showcase the work of Ismaël Lo, and to further exemplify the music of West Africa. If you have to choose only one of these recordings, I would recommend ‘Dabah’.

You’ve had a hard and stressful day at work – what do you do? Play ‘Dabah’ and you will very quickly have a smile on your face, your worries and cares will distance themselves – and who knows, you might even find yourself dancing around the room. Thoroughly recommended!

Barry Hunt

Equipment used:

CD Player, Sony CDP XB-720E

Pre-amplifier, Mark Levinson ML28, using balanced input and output connections.

Power amplifier, Quad 405-2, lightly modified.

Speakers, Quad Electrostatic (‘57s)

© Text and photos Copyright 2010 Barry Hunt

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.

 Posted by at 10:17 pm

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