An album that marks the coming of age of another great African talent.
Colin Irwin 2010
Given Carlou D’s tough upbringing in the suburbs of the Senegalese capital of Dakar and a previous existence with the uncompromising politicised hip hop group Positive Black Soul, this is a hugely surprising album. While he sings in urgent tones (mostly in the ethnic Wolof language) and whips up some stirring rhythms, there’s an all-pervading spirituality about him which radiates its own rarefied beauty.
In addition to revealing himself as a persuasive vocalist, he’s also an elegantly fluent acoustic guitarist. Whatever musical metamorphosis he’s undergone in the six years since discarding hip hop, it has resulted in an infectiously warm style that gives this debut international release all the right ingredients to seduce a wider audience beyond Africa.
Sure, there’s the odd throwback to his former self with a sax-driven modern jazz feel underlining his angriest vocal performance on Meun Nako Def, while he delivers a robust treatment of the anthemic traditional Mandinka song Nanioul, an effortless audience-rouser for all occasions. Elsewhere, though, kora is king and a bluesy mournfulness guides us through Fi Ma Dar – bemoaning those who head for Europe in the belief that the streets are paved with gold – and there’s a pained dignity about his performance of Namenala (I Miss You), a tender lament for his mother who died soon after being abandoned by his father, which transcends culture and genre.
The album’s focal point, however, is inevitably Gorée, on which we find Carlou duetting with his mentor, Senegalese legend Youssou N’Dour, on an anguished song about the island off Dakar from where millions of African slaves were taken to America. Its formidable impact transports the album somewhere else entirely but, far from being eclipsed by the great man, the track puts Carlou’s own emotional depth sharply into focus and it’s a measure of his quality that he stands tall in such company.
Add the opening track – the gorgeous spiritual chant Sam Fall – into the equation and you have a collection of music that touches all the senses. For once the promotional blurb isn’t too far-fetched and this does indeed mark the coming of age of another great African talent.