Remember back in the early '80s when King Sunny Adé hit the scene in America? Not only was he said to be the next Bob Marley, the record companies were falling all over themselves to find the next "Big Thing" out of Africa. In short order Sonny Okosun and Tabu Ley Rochereau were launched on US tours, and there was a sprinkling of record releases by various artists. None of this had much impact - the "African Music Explosion" of the early '80s turned out to be a bit of a dud, although it paved the way for World Music™ a few years later. Whoopdy-doo!
One group that had more of an impact than most during this time was Touré Kunda, a Paris-based combo founded by a group of brothers from the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Touré Kunda didn't get a lot of respect from the more hard-core African music fans. A friend of mine came back from one of their concerts in Madison sneering at their "African bubble-gum music."
I've always thought Touré Kunda got a bum rap. Behind the slick production values their sound was always true to the music of their native region, which has never been as "angular" as that of Senegal's North.
Popular around the same time, although not so much in the US, was the Paris-based "Afro-Jazz" group Xalam, which if I am not mistaken, also has its roots in the Casamance. The group was founded in 1969 by percussionist Abdoulaye Prosper Niang. Xalam achieved a level of "mainstream" success that most African musicians can only dream of: recording with the Rolling Stones, opening for Crosby, Stills & Nash and Robert Plant, soundtrack gigs and innumerable world tours over the years. After a few rough years following the death of Niang in 1988 and the replacement of most of the original members, Xalam is this year celebrating its fortieth anniversary!
I've always loved Xalam's LP Gorée, released in 1983 by the French label Celluloid (CEL 6656). The album updates Senegalese folkloric themes to great effect, highlighted by spot-on percussion and the brilliant trombone work of Yoro Gueye. If you like this one, be sure to check out some of Xalam's other recordings, some of which are newly available after many years out of print.
Here's the music, along with song descriptions from the liner notes:
Derived from Mandingo folklore, "Sidy Yella" was also a hit for Touré Kunda. "A Mandingo son, a brave humanitarian warrior, defended his people against the invader with dignity, and died on the battleground":
Xalam - Sidy Yella
"A song about motherly love. A child sings for her mother at the first rooster call. 'When the rooster announces the start of the day, when the girls sing and the boys dance. . . ,' the child sings to her mother. Serere song. N'diouf rhythm":
Xalam - Ade 2
"Gorée is an island located 3 kms from Dakar. An important place, it was made a Portuguese, Dutch, English and French trading post. Thousands of Africans were 'exported' to the USA, the West Indies, Brazil, Haiti & Cuba, transporting a whole culture and civilization. Diola rhythm (Saw Ruba)":
Xalam - Gorée
"Song of the struggle. An old champion recounts his feats and speaks of struggle, of the life which demands sacrifice, courage, patience, willpower and faith: 'There where we pass, the one that passes collects mud.' Life is an eternal struggle. Wolof song. Saban rhythm":
Xalam - Kanu 2
"The story of a woman who prays to the god Djisalbero for a child. Her prayers go unanswered and she sees that around her the other women who have children hardly spend their time caring for them or simply abandon them. Diola song. Boncarabon rhythm":
Xalam - Djisalbero
"The struggle for the liberation of oppressed black people and of man in his home and birthplace. The struggle for the unification of African people. the struggle against racism and apartheid":
Xalam - Soweto
Many thanks to my daughter Aku for translating these liner notes. Click on the pictures at the top of the post and below to reveal the album sleeve in full. Download Gorée as a zipped file here, and thanks to reader/listener Soulsalaam for making the Xalam LP "Ade" Live at Festival Horizonte Berlin available here.