Sunday, August 8, 2010

In review--West African Praise Songs

Carlou D
World Village

It has been a long while since I’ve listened to Senegalese music and I’ll admit the bulk of West African music I’ve reviewed in the past 3 years has hailed from Mali. So when I popped Carlou D’s World Village debut, Muzikr into the player I was delighted to hear the kora shimmering around acoustic guitar and soaring vocals. I don’t know if Carlou is a descendent of the griot class, but he certainly plays the role of a griot (storyteller, messenger, educator…) on his recording. He wears his sentiments on his sleeve, not to mention his religious convictions. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to know musically and otherwise, coming across as a Bob Marley for a younger generation. This is the highest compliment I can give Carlou since I'm a fan of Bob Marley's music and integrity.

I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to think of the recording. I thought it would be filled with Senegalese pop and hip-hop music, but it’s not. Strong melodies supported by polyrhythms and stunning guitar and signature vocals dominate. The recording feels gentle in so many ways, even when Carlou takes on heavier topics such as the historical slave trade of his homeland or the plight of young Senegalese immigrating to Europe to find streets paved in gold, but instead finding despair. The opener Sam Fall supplies listeners with passionate vocals supported by the kora’s cascading notes and acoustic guitar. In contrast, Fi Ma Dar sounds more bluesy, and Nanioul more upbeat.

Gorèe features Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour in a duet. Sen Regal sounds like a cross between reggae and hip-hop done Senegalese-style. My favorite song on the album, Namenala (for his mother who died when Carlou was 20 years old), feels melancholic in a deep soulful way. The bulk of the album includes prayer songs that honor Cheikh Ibra Fall (a spiritual guide of the Muslim faith that lived 100 years ago). Carlou’s songs capture both the sacred and pop sensibility. With virtuosic kora and guitar throughout the CD and meaningful lyrical content, Carlou D stands at the precipice of international stardom.

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