Friday, February 6, 2009

Forty Years of Xalam

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.


Kevin said...

As a note of interest, the building shown on the back of the liner notes is the maison d'esclaves on the island of Gorée. This is where the slaves were sold and loaded onto boats. The door in the middle on the ground level was the door of no return from the slave quarters there.

Thanks for all the great music and notes!

Comb & Razor said...

Ah... I always say this album around but never got a chance to listen to it. Good show!

Anonymous said...

Hi John, this comment has nothing to do with Xalam, but to mention a website that , I think, deserves to be displayed in your "listen" list, for those who appreciate Angolanese music :
Keep going

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, one of the best African group of all time...

matthew said...

Great Post John, this has long been one of my favorite Senegalese albums. Also, a very timely post. Mr. Joseph Ndiaye, who for over forty years lead tours of the slave fort pictured on the album gatefold, just recently passed away in Senegal at the age of 87. For many he will always be associated with the island of Goree.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Keep up the great work - this is the blog I've been looking for the last few years, and here you are.

Greetings from snowy Norway!

Anonymous said...

talk about a timely post, actually joseph ndiaye the most famous gorean caretaker passed feb 6.
anyway thanks for this, very nice. I always loved xalam. One of my goat album is xalam's wam sa bindam. I can send it to you if you don't have it.
by the way goree's real name is BER, as far as our forefathers are concerned, they did not know about no goree. The dutch sailors called it so, that's disambiguation for goede rede or whatever it is meaning good harbor. Unfortunately we keep calling ourselves those stupid names that don't have nothing to do with us, have you ever asked yourself what africa means

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much.

The forty years birthday party would be perfect with the live "Adé Xalam".

It would be possible?

Anonymous said...

Ngoni: Actually, I don't have that one, but I think it was recently reissued.

Anonymous said...

My favorite album of Xalam after Apartheid. Those guys play real music

Anonymous said...

Some more info, as I explain in my post Xalam is back (post in French, but you can use Google Translate at the top of the page for your preferred language), the remaining members of the group reunited and rehearsed last July...
this is Xalam version 2, or Xalam II. To be continued...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing John B.! I agree with NGONI, perferct, very possible and necessary... 40 years of Xalam would be incomplete without reference to their pinnacle debut LP as Xalam "Ade" Live at Festival Horizonte Berlin 1979, (their first release being under the name Le Xalam on Musiclub Records). IMHO their best release, a modern Mbalax meets Afro-Beat & riffing Jazz-Funk fusion full of cracking sabar & kutiro, Fender Rhodes solos, intricate guitars, stabbing horn solos and haunting vocal harmonies. Despite of their apparent "mainstream" success this album went largely unrecognized by the Afro-World-Pop movement. It emenates a universal sound, like a message from the future destined to out shine ALL of their relases thereafter. It's unbelievable it's a live recording with those arrangements so tight! With that said, I gotta share it:

Xalam - "Ade" Live at Festival Horizonte Berlin 1979

Thanks for listening!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Soulsalaam.

Anonymous said...

An unknown thrust brought me back to read the comments and I found a gift.

Thanks to all:
John B.

Mouhamadou Falilou Mbacke Ndiaye said...

I really appreciate all the work you guys made about Xalam. Is there a way to download the album Ade? I really need that one. If so, please get back to me asap. Thank you.

ReeBee said...


Keith Sarver, webmaster Xalam said...

Great blog! Thanks to Soulsalaam for the Ade mp3s. They sound great; did you transfer them yourself from the vinyl? I might put them on the Xalam web site, if you don't mind, and the band is ok with it.

funk said...

a bit late to the party, any chance someone could reup the live album? thanks

John B. said...

funk: Here it is:

funk said...

thanks John b.

Greg Kozak said...

A brilliant album by a stupendous and phenomenal group. It will stand the test of time. This is what music is supposed to be.