Monday, August 27, 2007

Dakar Divas Pt. 1: Kiné Lam

One thing that's always irritated me about the whole "World Music™" thing is the tendency to reduce whole genres of music to one or two artists who are supposed to represent whole countries or styles. Thus, Femi Kuti and Sunny Ade represent Nigeria, Tarika stands in for Madagascar, Angelique Kidjo Benin, etc. The artists in this "chosen few" get coveted spots in the chain music stores, tour the U.S. and Europe a lot, and often collaborate in the studio with well-known Western pop stars. After a while the sounds they make, at least for the World Music™ market, bear little resemblance to the music that brought them notice in the first place.

There's a bit of dilettantism behind the desire by the latte-sipping masses for the latest "thing" in World Music™, a touch of condescension, as exemplified by the phrase "Bonnie Raitt thinks that Oliver Mtukudzi is the Otis Redding of Zimbabwe!" Now, just what the hell is that supposed to mean?

I suppose I'm just cynical, or maybe I'm a bit of a snob myself.
I certainly can't fault the above-mentioned "Western pop stars" who've done so much to promote World Music™, nor can I blame the African musicians who've benefited from the interest in it. It's just that there's only room in the Best Buy bins for so many World Music™ artists. The real culprit here, if there is one, is "the invisible hand of The Market," and not anybody's malice or greed.

For a number of years Youssou N'Dour, and to a lesser extent Baaba Maal, have been the "officially approved ambassadors" of Senegalese music to the rest of the world. The many other musicians from that country who have toiled away in the local market for years have been pretty much shut out. One of these musicians is the extraordinary female vocalist Kiné Lam. Ms. Lam comes from a great griot family in the Cayor region of Senegal and in 1979 was selected as a featured singer at the Sorano National Theatre in Dakar. Her debut solo recording, Cheickh Anta Mbacke (Syllart 38764-1), was released in 1989 and since then she has issued numerous cassettes in Senegal, all but one unheard outside of the African market.

The one exception was 1996's Praise (Shanachie 64062), which was released in the U.S. to a fair amount of critical acclaim. It coincided with a North American tour that was meant to introduce her to the World Music
audience. When I heard that she'd be appearing in Chicago with her backup band Le Kaggu, I was of course beside myself, as I'd been following Kiné Lam's career for years and pretty much worshiped the ground she walked on. When I caught her performance at the late Equator Club I wasn't disappointed. The problem was the audience: apart from a very small number of American cognoscenti and Equator Club regulars, it was composed entirely of members of the (small) Chicago Senegalese community. So Kiné Lam has remained, outside of the Senegal diaspora anyway, an obscure quantity in the American music scene. In a way, I'm almost glad that Kiné Lam hasn't been accepted into the World Music™ pantheon; if she'd done a duet with Phil Collins, I would have gone into cardiac arrest!

I would like more people to be aware of the work of this consummate artist, and that is the purpose of this post. Think of it as "Kiné Lam's Greatest Hits." In the future I will be posting work by other great female Senegalese singers.

If I had to make a list of the ten greatest African albums of all time, Kiné Lam's Galass (KSF Productions KSF 03, ca. 1990) would be on it, although technically it's not an "album," having only been released on cassette. Transcendent vocals, knife-sharp guitar work, insane percussion - Galass has it all. The credits list Yahya Fall on rhythm guitar and no-one on lead, but that can't be right - the guitar plays more than a supporting role here: just check out the George Benson-ish licks on "SIDA." Itou Dieng plays bass; Massaër Diagne, El Hadji I. Ndiaye and Ousseynou Mboup are on percussion; Iba Ndiaye on keyboards and Ndiaye Fatou Ndiaye and Chuck Berry Mboup [!] on supporting vocals round things out. The musicians are working here like a well-oiled machine.

Kiné Lam & le Kaggu - Sey

Kiné Lam & le Kaggu - Takko Wade

Kiné Lam & le Kaggu - Darmanko

Kiné Lam & le Kaggu - SIDA

Kiné's next two releases, while perhaps not scaling the same heights as Galass, still have some great moments. "Tabasky Thiam," from Balla Aïssa Boury (KSF 004), and "Dogo," from Leer-Gui (KSF 06), feature the same musical lineup as Galass. The synthesisizer work on "Dogo" reminds me of an R&B hit from some years ago (can't quite place which one).

Kiné Lam & le Kaggu - Tabasky Thiam

Kiné Lam & le Kaggu - Dogo

In the middle of the Nineties, Kiné put out a couple of releases with a more "suave" sound, supplementing the regular members of Le Kaggu with the Paris session musicians Philippe Slominsky, Alain Hatot and J. Bolognesi on horns, and Manu Lima on synthesizer, who have figured in so many Paris-based African recordings. Under no circumstances did this mean she was going "soft" on us, as these two tracks from Noreyni (KSF 15) amply demonstrate:

Kiné Lam - Nimay Doxee

Kiné Lam - Asc Jaraaf

In the last few years, Kiné Lam has made a number of fine recordings with a "neo-traditional" ensemble including the outstanding xalam player Abou Guissé (center, picture below). "Mamé Thierno" and "Sourang M'beri" are from Sunu Thiossane 2, while "Le Retour" and "Térale" are taken from Le Retour (Jololi). The latter features Souriba Kouyaté on kora and "Saraba" on flute, while Youssou N'dour shares vocals on "Le Retour."

Kiné Lam - Mame Thierno

Kiné Lam - Sourang M'beri

Kiné Lam w. Youssou N'Dour - Le Retour

Kiné Lam - Térale

Discography of Kiné Lam


Comb & Razor said...

good god do i love me some mbalax!

one thing, though: i think you need to label the mp3s. i downloaded them all at a go and they all come up as "," "," etc.

LOL @ the World Music comments... i remember thinking the exact same thing about that "Oliver Mtukudzi is the Otis Redding of Zimbabwe" comment, too...

Analog Africa said...

John , I replied to you few days ago, check comments below(the angola section)
Cheers. Samy

John B. said...


You know what, I just checked, and all of the Kine Lam clips down load with the names interspersed with %, while the earlier MP3s all download as proper names.

It must be the way I uploaded them; I can't tell you what I did different. I'm just getting the hang of this domain name business - It takes a little more technical skill than using DivShare, although the results are MUCH better!

All I can tell you for now is: When you right-click on the link to "Save file as ..." just make sure the name in the destination folder is something you'd recognize later... type out your own file name if need be.

John B. said...

I just realized what may be going on here... The previous files I assigned names, etc. through the Advanced Tags Editor on Windows Media Player while the Kine Lam files I just uploaded.

The problem with Windows Media Player is when you want to edit the tags you have to list the file in your WMP Library, look up the file all over again and THEN do your editing (curses on you, Bill Gates!) which is a huge pain in the butt.

I'm sure there is a way that you can just clip on your MP3 file & edit the tag info with having to go through all this. Can someone tell me how to do this? Is there a utility or something?

Anonymous said...

This is quite interesting. You certainly make the case that Kine Lam is an important artist! I don't think I've heard anything quite like it. Good blog.

Anonymous said...

I know this is shameful advertising, but as an Ethiopiques fan I hope this is worthwhile.

Do you know about the release of 'The Very Best of the Ethiopiques' 2CD? There is also a fansite to celebrate the launch at

There's tons more stuff I hope you'll find interesting.

Best wishes

John B. said...

Tim -

Thanks for the tip, and the link.

I have a fair number of rips of Ethiopian cassettes from the '80s. Unfortunately they're all on 10" tape reels and I have no way to digitize them!

If I can get hold of a tape deck I will be posting those fantastic tracks here. The 1980s Ethiopian cassettes, recorded under the Mengistu dictatorship, represent an important "missing link" between the sounds of the 60s-early 70s (as represented in the Ethiopiques series) and the stuff that's been recorded since 1992, when Ethiopia opened up to the outside world.

Anonymous said...

Greetings, ditto on your world music comments, as much as I love Youssou Ndour, I prefer the stuff he puts out for the "local market" rather than the stuff he puts out for the international market. It almost seems he's trying too hard to I don't know, be "world music"-ized or something. I love live Youssou Ndour a la bercy etc.

I did enjoy his Egypt Album as well as Thione Seck's Orientation, although I have to say that between him, Thione Seck, and Baba Maal, while I like them all (usually in thier most acoustic "real"/for the local market form", I like Thione Seck the best, I think, though I can't quite put my finger on why. Both Youssou and Thione have the types of voices that make you stop whatever you're doing and take notice, yet Thione Seck's voice has a mellower, more calming quality, I think.

And to the first commentor, ditto, I love me some mbalax, nothing to get me going and threw a day of work than that.

Anonymous said...

I love that special Kine Lam. It's very awesome. I listen to it every single day on my IPod, and I can't stop dancing on them. My favourite ones are: Sey, SIDA, and Mame Thierno.

Anonymous said...

No wonder going crazy.
when a woman sings it this way ...
even leads one to mistaken.