If some recent traditional albums give the listener a feeling of tranquility as if reaching an isolated but welcoming village as dusk settles, Lamp Fall by contrast is like arriving in a bustling city full of unique and chaotic possibilities
This imagined city may be in West Africa but it is populated with Bahians and visiting US stars like Pee Wee Ellis. The radios blare out soukous, jazz, reggae and mbalax and at the centre is Cheikh Lô pulling it all together.
Cheikh Lô succeeds in melding these forms so wonderfully together because first and last is rhythmic mastery. Rhythms are often simplified to allow musicians of different musical faiths to play together but Lô, who also acts as principal drummer on the album, pushes this element and finds musicians who can keep up such as JB head horn honcho Pee Wee Ellis. Pee Wee effortlessly delivers sweeping jazz saxophone on a number of the tunes including the title track, which is dedicated to Cheikh Ibra Fall a leading disciple within the Baye Fall religious brotherhood.
The album started five years ago in Dakar when drums, guitars and percussion were laid down. The next layer was applied in London with sax and bass and more drums. Cheikh Lô then traveled to Bahia, where he hooked up with local guitarists and Afro bloco troupe Ilê Aiyê. The latter are used to spectacular effect on ‘Sénégal Brésil’. Lô’s swooping vocals, a punchy trombone, the massed power of a 40-strong drum troupe and the unique tama drum of his musical partner Samba N’Dokh create an awesome dose of Afro-Brazilian groove. Other tracks on the album benefit from touches of Brazilian flavour supplied by accordion and berimbau.
If Brazil provides a fresh source of inspiration, two tracks draw heavily on the Cuban sound made famous by bands such as Orchestra Baobab. Beautiful and laid back vocals ride easy on the loping guitar work of Lamine Faye to provide a sensuous and joyful number called ‘Sante Yalla’ (Thanks to Almighty God) in contrast to the perkier but equally catchy ‘Tougayu M’Bedd’ (Sitting in the Street All Day).
Wherever he may travel, he comes back frequently to his spiritual base. ‘Bamba Mô Woor’ is a praise song for the founder or Mouridism, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. It is a bouncy ride powered by horns, under slung with reggae, interrupted by talking drum and set off by falsetto vocals.
In a liturgical twist he brings the album to a close with another feting of Cheikh Ibra Fall on ‘Zikroulah’. His call is responded to by a female chorus and rides a percussive wave that leaves you in no doubt that you are in Africa.
Just as it took five years to assemble this rich and varied work, Lamp Fall repays the repeated listener slowly but generously. There’s just too much to take in at a single sitting, a reliable sign of a significant artistic work and an eclectic mind at work.
Lamp Fall is released on World Circuit
See photos of his recent London gig on our sister site Flykr