Monday, December 21, 2009

House of Kings




The Casamance region of southern Senegal has been the scene of sporadic fighting over the years between the central government and the separatist Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). The area was formerly a Portuguese possession and is culturally distinct from the rest of Senegal. The name "Casamance" is said to derive from the Portuguese word for "house" combined with the Mandinka word for "king." An alternative explanation attributes the name to an old kingdom in the region called Kassa.

The music of Casamance also differs from the mainstream Senegalese sound, having more in common with the music of Guinea and Mali, with a distinctive Lusophone flavor. Orchestre Baobab, Toure Kunda and Xalam all have roots in the region, but the foremost musical group in the area has been the Sedhiou Band, variously known as UCAS de Sedhiou or the UCAS Jazz Band.

The Sedhiou Band was founded in 1959 as the musical group of the Union Cultural Association in the town of Sedhiou, and has had a varied lineup over the years. The most recent configuration features Ibrahima Sylla Dia on lead guitar, vocals by Abdoulaye Dandou Diedhiou, Seydou Ndao, Amadou Leye Sarr and Aminata Dieng Ndiaye, and a battery of percussionists and other musicians. The group came to the attention of most African music fans outside of Senegal when Africa Kambeng (Africassette AC9404) was released in 1998, a recording that is still in print and available from Amazon and Sterns.

The Sedhiou Band have released numerous recordings over the years (a 1970s LP is available from Worldservice here). I possess four cassettes by the group released during the 1990s, from which I present selections here. It's a sort of "
Sedhiou Band Best of the '90s," as it were.

The title track of Saaroo, released in 1992, is distinguished by the kora playing of Sirakata Diebaté, who also features prominently on "Kambeng" from the same cassette:

UCAS de Sedhiou - Saaroo

UCAS de Sedhiou - Kambeng



I wish I knew the name of the female singer who graces the lovely song "Nenne Suuxo," permeated with a sense of saudade, that opens A Paris, issued in 1993. "Yaa Musoolu," from the same cassette, definitely kicks things up a notch:

UCAS Band Jazz de Sedhiou - Nenne Suuxo

UCAS Band Jazz de Sedhiou - Yaa Musoolu

In 1997 the Sedhiou Band made several recordings for the Gambia-based label Kerewan Sounds, and these reflect Gambian concerns. Notable is this praise song to the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, a political party that grew out of a military coup in the Gambia in 1994 and swept the 1997 elections. It continues to rule the country amid charges of intimidation of opposition parties. This is from the cassette Dimbayaa:

Sedhiou Band - A.P.R.C.


Also from Dimbayaa is this lively tune:

Sedhiou Band - Khady Kebe

Africa Kambeng, also released in 1997 by Kerewan Sounds, continues the theme of uptempo dance music combined with political paeans. "22nd July Movement" is a praise song to the 1994 miltary coup:

Sedhiou Band - 22nd July Movement

Here's another praise song, but apparently not a political one. There is a Senegalese professional basketball player named Ndeye Ndiaye, but she would have been 18 when this song was recorded, so it's probably not about her. I wish I knew more:

Sedhiou Band - Ndeye Ndiaye

Download these tracks as a zipped file here. If you enjoy this music, go to this post about Ramiro Naka from Guinea-Bisaau, and see if you don't hear a connection.



3 comments:

Matt said...

Great post, John. I love the Casamance region and this music brings back fond memories of lazy getaways down the river...

John B. said...

Thanks, Matt. Congrats on that mention in the New York Times, by the way.

David Wyatt said...

Another new discovery for me - now I have another band and another region's music I need to explore! Thanks so much.