The word ‘Orientation’ derives from the practice of aligning churches to point eastwards and carries the added connotations of a direction to travel in, knowledge of where you came from and the beliefs that one holds dear. Thione Seck has made explicit his love of Bollywood and Egyptian music and made one of the most important records of the year in the process
Orientation is a perfect gem. Sometimes musicians fuse forms because their producers tell them it will sell records and sometimes they do it because they are driven by artistic intent. In Thione’s case, he is exposing the influences that have been there in his music all along.
As a child, Thione would listen to his father’s records of Egyptian stars like Abdel Halim Hafez and Oum Kalsoum and he would watch the many Bollywood films shown in the local cinemas. As a musician, the powerful call to prayer is a starting point for many vocalists and as a composer he told Afropop, “It’s like the scales of the Spanish, Hindu, Greek, Arab musicians. Each time I compose a song, I put a few notes from this eastern scale, because that’s what I love the most.”
Ironically, the project began in 1999 and would have been released years before Youssou N’Dour’s Egypt but for licensing issues and Thione Seck’s French label going bust.
With the help of some prodding by his producer Ibrahima Sylla and musical director François Bréant, who arranged studio time in Paris, Madras and Cairo and ensured the pick of the local talent in each location, Thione Seck was able to realise his labour of love.
The results are classics like ‘Ballago’, that stake out a whole new world where earthy Afro meets epic Asian. Soaring and poignant vocals by Thione Seck set off by uplifting backing voices and sitar counterpoised with a percussive beat feast. Seck’s voice so naturally conveying this Eastern feel that the categories effectively collapse. When joined by Bombay Jay on ‘Assalo’ the effect is just as intoxicating.
The same seamless marriage occurs on the tracks with Rehab from Egypt (‘Yaye’ and Woyatina’). While these tracks invite the most direct comparison with his fellow countryman Youssou N’Dour, they are every bit as good. Taken alongside the other tracks on this album, it has to be said that Thione has produced the better of the two records.
Remarkably, despite worldwide success as the singer for Orchestra Baobab and a local following that has led him to release no fewer than 40 albums in Senegal, this marks only his third international release. Perhaps he has been unlucky in releasing his work after the much talked about Egypt but you should make room in your collection for this one.
Orientation is in short a modern classic and a milestone in global music culture.
Orientation is out now in the UK on Stern’s Africa and elsewhere on Syllart as Orientissime