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Cheikh Lô

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  • May 01, 2012

    The 2012 New Orleans Jazz Fest got under way last weekend. Carolina Chocolate Drops gave "a joyous, emotionally committed show," reports the Times-Picayune, which calls Cheikh Lô's set "as colorful and unique as his signature patchwork tunic," and notes that Dr. John sounded "newly invigorated" as on his new album, Locked Down. He also joined Bruce Springsteen on stage to help close the first weekend in style. This coming weekend sees Dr. John's return and a set from another favorite son of New Orleans, Allen Toussaint.

  • April 27, 2012

    The 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, better known as Jazz Fest, gets under way today and runs through this weekend and the next at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. Among the performers set to take the various stage at the festival this year are four artists familiar to readers of the Nonesuch Journal: two New Orleans legends and hometown heroes, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, plus two artists whose unique musical styles will make them feel right at home at Jazz Fest, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Cheikh Lô.

  • about Cheikh Lô

    Cheikh Lô is one of the great mavericks of African music. A singer and songwriter as well as a distinctive guitarist, percussionist, and drummer, he has personalized and distilled a variety of influences from West and Central Africa, to create a style that is uniquely his own.

    Lô dedicates both his life and music to Baye Fall, a specifically Senegalese form of Islam and part of the larger Islamic brotherhood of Mouridism. Established by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba M’Becke at the end of the 19th century, Mouridism emerged from opposition to French colonialism and many fabulous stories are told of Bamba’s struggles with the authorities who feared that the rapid spread of Mouridism would inspire armed insurrection. Bamba’s closest disciple Cheikh Ibra Fall (also known as Lamp Fall) established the Baye Fall movement, and he was the first to wear the patchwork clothes and long dreadlocks that are still Baye Fall trademarks today. Cheikh Lô’s own marabout, Maame Massamba N’Diaye is said to be over 100 years old, and was a disciple of Cheikh Ibra Fall; Cheikh Lô wears his picture in a pendant around his neck.

    Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Senegalese parents in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali, where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali), Wolof (language of Senegal), and French. His father was from a long line of marabouts. From an early age, Lô was only interested in music, running away from school to teach himself guitar and percussion on borrowed instruments.

    During his teens, he listened to all kinds of music, especially the Congolese Rumba, which was popular throughout Africa. Cuban music was also all the rage in West Africa at the time, so when his older brothers started up their 78s and danced to "El Pancho Bravo," Cheikh, without understanding a word, would mime exactly to the Spanish lyrics.

    At 21, he started singing and playing percussion with Orchestra Volta Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. The band played a variety of music from Burkina Faso and its neighboring countries, as well Cuban and other styles.

    In 1981, he moved to Dakar, Senegal, where he played drums for the renowned and progressive singer Ouza before joining the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing an international repertoire.

    In 1984, he moved to Paris and worked as a studio session drummer. He recalls: “Studio-sleep-studio for two years. I love Congolese and Cameroonian music, and I absorbed a lot of it during this period." On his return to Senegal, he found that his (now very long) dreadlocks made him no longer entirely welcome at the Hotel Savana, so he concentrated on his own music.

    Cheikh’s first cassette, Doxandeme ("Immigrants"), on which he sang about the experience of being Senegalese abroad, came out in 1990. Despite his reservations about the quality of the local production, it sold well and earned him the "Nouveau Talent" award in Dakar. The following year, he started to work on the compositions for his next album.

    Youssou N’Dour first encountered Lô as a session singer in 1989. “Whenever he sang the choruses, I was overwhelmed by his voice,” explains N’Dour, “but I really got to know him from his cassette Doxandeme. I heard his voice and said, 'Wow.' I found something in his voice that’s like a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali."

    Lô continued to develop his own repertoire, holding out for the best recording conditions for his next production. On hearing Lô’s new songs, N’Dour immediately agreed to produce, and, in August 1995, they went to work in N’Dour’s Xippi Studio in Dakar on the album Ne La Thiass.

    The album sees Lô joined on vocals by Youssou N’Dour ("Guiss Guiss" and "Set") and by musicians from N’Dour’s Super Etoile de Dakar. Lô’s signature sound—a semi-acoustic, Spanish-tinged take on the popular mbalax style—was an instant success in Senegal, gaining him a dedicated local following. "Set," a plea to clean up the streets during a Dakar municipal strike, was broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the country in a campaign by the Ministry of Health.

    Ne La Thiass was released internationally on World Circuit in 1996, followed by a debut European tour from Lô and his own band. His early performances prompted rave reviews, with the Times of London describing Lô as "a rare talent destined to become one of world music’s biggest stars," and the Guardian calling him "a compelling performer with energy and personality to match that of the early Bob Marley."

    In 1997, when the album had its North American release on Nonesuch Records, Lô was named Best Newcomer at the Kora All-African Awards in South Africa, and the following year he toured the US, as part of the Africa-Fête line-up that included Salif Keita and Papa Wemba. In 1999, he received the prestigious Ordre National de Merite de Léon from the President of Senegal.

    Cheikh Lô’s second album, Bambay Gueej was released by World Circuit in 1999 and the following year on Nonesuch. It was co-produced by Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour in Dakar with additional recording in Havana and London. Expanding on his previous album, Lô drew on sounds from Burkina Faso, Mali (with guest Oumou Sangare), and incorporated touches of Cuban son (with Richard Egües on flute) and funk (with Pee Wee Ellis of James Brown fame on sax).

    Following the album’s release, Lô continued to tour successfully and to gather and refine songs for his next recording. His eclectic mix was furthered on Lamp Fall (World Circuit, 2005; Nonesuch Records 2006) by his discovery of Brazilian sounds and rhythms, and he traveled to Bahia, Brazil, to work with acclaimed producer Alê Siqueira (Tribalistas, Omara Portuondo). These Brazilian recordings were coupled on the album with sessions recorded in Dakar and London.
     
    For the next few years, Lô withdrew from the international stage and immersed himself in the Dakar scene playing regularly with his own band; this return home is reflected in his 2010 World Circuit release, Jamm, released the following year on Nonesuch. His signature blend of semi-acoustic flavors—West and Central African, Cuban, flamenco—has been distilled into his most mature, focused, yet diverse statement to date.

    Cheikh Lô is an artist unlike any other in music. It’s not just his unique appearance—with long dreadlocks and his colorful patchwork clothes—that sets him apart; his career is constantly evolving, incorporating influences from around the world. Wherever his musical journey takes him, he will surely remain rooted to his Baye Fall beliefs and, no matter what, will always sound like Cheikh Lô.

on May 29, 2008 - 7:06pm

Cheikh Lô is one of the great mavericks of African music. A singer and songwriter as well as a distinctive guitarist, percussionist, and drummer, he has personalized and distilled a variety of influences from West and Central Africa, to create a style that is uniquely his own.

Lô dedicates both his life and music to Baye Fall, a specifically Senegalese form of Islam and part of the larger Islamic brotherhood of Mouridism. Established by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba M’Becke at the end of the 19th century, Mouridism emerged from opposition to French colonialism and many fabulous stories are told of Bamba’s struggles with the authorities who feared that the rapid spread of Mouridism would inspire armed insurrection. Bamba’s closest disciple Cheikh Ibra Fall (also known as Lamp Fall) established the Baye Fall movement, and he was the first to wear the patchwork clothes and long dreadlocks that are still Baye Fall trademarks today. Cheikh Lô’s own marabout, Maame Massamba N’Diaye is said to be over 100 years old, and was a disciple of Cheikh Ibra Fall; Cheikh Lô wears his picture in a pendant around his neck.

Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Senegalese parents in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali, where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali), Wolof (language of Senegal), and French. His father was from a long line of marabouts. From an early age, Lô was only interested in music, running away from school to teach himself guitar and percussion on borrowed instruments.

During his teens, he listened to all kinds of music, especially the Congolese Rumba, which was popular throughout Africa. Cuban music was also all the rage in West Africa at the time, so when his older brothers started up their 78s and danced to "El Pancho Bravo," Cheikh, without understanding a word, would mime exactly to the Spanish lyrics.

At 21, he started singing and playing percussion with Orchestra Volta Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. The band played a variety of music from Burkina Faso and its neighboring countries, as well Cuban and other styles.

In 1981, he moved to Dakar, Senegal, where he played drums for the renowned and progressive singer Ouza before joining the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing an international repertoire.

In 1984, he moved to Paris and worked as a studio session drummer. He recalls: “Studio-sleep-studio for two years. I love Congolese and Cameroonian music, and I absorbed a lot of it during this period." On his return to Senegal, he found that his (now very long) dreadlocks made him no longer entirely welcome at the Hotel Savana, so he concentrated on his own music.

Cheikh’s first cassette, Doxandeme ("Immigrants"), on which he sang about the experience of being Senegalese abroad, came out in 1990. Despite his reservations about the quality of the local production, it sold well and earned him the "Nouveau Talent" award in Dakar. The following year, he started to work on the compositions for his next album.

Youssou N’Dour first encountered Lô as a session singer in 1989. “Whenever he sang the choruses, I was overwhelmed by his voice,” explains N’Dour, “but I really got to know him from his cassette Doxandeme. I heard his voice and said, 'Wow.' I found something in his voice that’s like a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali."

Lô continued to develop his own repertoire, holding out for the best recording conditions for his next production. On hearing Lô’s new songs, N’Dour immediately agreed to produce, and, in August 1995, they went to work in N’Dour’s Xippi Studio in Dakar on the album Ne La Thiass.

The album sees Lô joined on vocals by Youssou N’Dour ("Guiss Guiss" and "Set") and by musicians from N’Dour’s Super Etoile de Dakar. Lô’s signature sound—a semi-acoustic, Spanish-tinged take on the popular mbalax style—was an instant success in Senegal, gaining him a dedicated local following. "Set," a plea to clean up the streets during a Dakar municipal strike, was broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the country in a campaign by the Ministry of Health.

Ne La Thiass was released internationally on World Circuit in 1996, followed by a debut European tour from Lô and his own band. His early performances prompted rave reviews, with the Times of London describing Lô as "a rare talent destined to become one of world music’s biggest stars," and the Guardian calling him "a compelling performer with energy and personality to match that of the early Bob Marley."

In 1997, when the album had its North American release on Nonesuch Records, Lô was named Best Newcomer at the Kora All-African Awards in South Africa, and the following year he toured the US, as part of the Africa-Fête line-up that included Salif Keita and Papa Wemba. In 1999, he received the prestigious Ordre National de Merite de Léon from the President of Senegal.

Cheikh Lô’s second album, Bambay Gueej was released by World Circuit in 1999 and the following year on Nonesuch. It was co-produced by Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour in Dakar with additional recording in Havana and London. Expanding on his previous album, Lô drew on sounds from Burkina Faso, Mali (with guest Oumou Sangare), and incorporated touches of Cuban son (with Richard Egües on flute) and funk (with Pee Wee Ellis of James Brown fame on sax).

Following the album’s release, Lô continued to tour successfully and to gather and refine songs for his next recording. His eclectic mix was furthered on Lamp Fall (World Circuit, 2005; Nonesuch Records 2006) by his discovery of Brazilian sounds and rhythms, and he traveled to Bahia, Brazil, to work with acclaimed producer Alê Siqueira (Tribalistas, Omara Portuondo). These Brazilian recordings were coupled on the album with sessions recorded in Dakar and London.
 
For the next few years, Lô withdrew from the international stage and immersed himself in the Dakar scene playing regularly with his own band; this return home is reflected in his 2010 World Circuit release, Jamm, released the following year on Nonesuch. His signature blend of semi-acoustic flavors—West and Central African, Cuban, flamenco—has been distilled into his most mature, focused, yet diverse statement to date.

Cheikh Lô is an artist unlike any other in music. It’s not just his unique appearance—with long dreadlocks and his colorful patchwork clothes—that sets him apart; his career is constantly evolving, incorporating influences from around the world. Wherever his musical journey takes him, he will surely remain rooted to his Baye Fall beliefs and, no matter what, will always sound like Cheikh Lô.

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