Modern Senegalese music with electronic rhythms and two or three great singers.
Neil Bennun 2002
Fans of Baaba Maal's souped-up contemporary Senegalese music step this way.
Suuf's 'Debbo Hande' is a resolutely forward-looking debut. It features twitchy studio-crafted rhythms, instrumentalists from Europe and West Africa, impassioned vocals and conscious lyrics sung in Peulh, Wolof and French. This combination is supposedly patented by the Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal in his collaborations with producer Simon Emmerson. For Baaba Maal, read the singers Djiby Guissé (of Les Frères Guissé) and the comparatively less-known Biram Seck. Their voices are forceful and supple, and they're joined by the sweet-voiced Hady Guissé. For Simon Emmerson, read the Bristol-based producer Simon Sleath, Real World alumnus and all-round studio don.
The album features contributions from the future-blues guitarist Justin Adams, pianist Sarah Class, percussionist Aliou Guissé of Les Frères Guissé and the bassist Dembel Diop. And it's a genuinely collaborative affair, although the emphasis is certainly weighted towards Senegal. There are nods to mbalax, the sound of urban Senegal ('Fit'), and more reflective folk music ('Sakou Kham').
But the textures and production make categorisations tricky. This is exemplified on 'Debbo Afrika' ('African Woman') with its funky chicken-scratch guitar riff syncopating with African lute and dubby drums. 'Xarit', is a gorgeously sad lament sung by Hady Guissé. A quite beautiful piano silvers the West African instrumentation. "I wrote your name on my heart and it will neither wash out nor die," Guissé sings, and it certainly sounds like he means it.
The lyrics are certainly worth a mention. 'Debbo Hande' ('Modern Woman'), a duet sung by Hady and Djiby Guissé, a spectacular mix of syncopated folk rhythms and programming, features the line: "Let's wake up and go to work... Man I hear your voice, but I'm afraid to go near." Subtle, articulate and ambiguous, it makes an apposite title song for a rewarding album.
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