I was listening recently to KBCS’s Daily Planet when I heard a rollicking African song come on the air. It was one of those jaunty, good time songs that African musicians write so well. It was Mbadi (hear it), from Daby Balde’s new Introducing Daby Balde. What I like so much about the song and the album is that it combines a traditional approach by incorporating kora and native percussion. But it also incorporates western instrumentation (Balde’s main instrument is the guitar) in a simple, unadorned way. There is no big bold fusion statement as many “crossover” albums attempt. And unlike said recordings, the western instruments like accordion, flute and violin do not distract. They accompany, as they should. The instruments are not electrified. So the music and lyrics stand front and center.
The bouncing beat and bass line of Mbadi remind me a little of those wonderful three chord rock n roll tunes of the 1950s. They were full of life, hope and love in equal measures. The liner notes translate the lyrics (in Senegal’s Fula language) thus:
You have to help me
If you don’t help me, I can’t go on my way
Please help me to go and do good for my country
I want all you people to come join me and wish me
Well to do good for you
Come join me, we will ask for help together.
I imagine the song written from the perspective of a political leader rallying his people to help him bring change and good for his nation.
Daby Balde, 36, was born to a noble family in southern Senegal’s Fouladou region. From age 11, he used to compose folk songs for local events like “circumcisions, burning the midnight oil and wrestling ceremonies” (I had to quote this from the liner notes because the vision of an 11 year old writing praise songs for wrestling champions is, well, too wild to be believed!). His parents looked down upon his musical aspirations (I think I might too given where he was burning the midnight oil).
The young Daby decided he must leave his home at age 19 to pursue a musical career. He moved to neighboring Gambia where he met several westerners who purchased his first guitar for him. At age 25, he returned home, eventually landing in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Here westerners again played a fateful role in his career by securing a concert gig for a Belgian NGO (non-governmental organization). This in turn, led to performances at several world music festivals in Belgium.
Unfortunately, the liner notes don’t name a producer. Nor do they trace Balde’s musical lineage in terms of influences. So we don’t know who in the world music community championed his work (though he does thank BBC world music programmer Charlie Gillett).
Of course, since Balde is from Senegal, it conjures up that veritable giant of Senegalese music, Youssou N’Dour. But their musical styles are quite different. N’Dour’s music has a sweeping vision and raw intensity which Balde doesn’t even attempt. His music attempts to capture life’s small sweet sad moments using that beautiful, pure tenor voice to carry the message.
This album was Charlie Gillett’s Record of the Month in October and the DJ had this to say about it:
Introducing Daby Balde is so astonishingly good, I keep listening again to make sure I’m not exaggerating or misrepresenting it. Partly, the appeal is in Daby’s voice: clear, high, always melodic, and with that cutting edge we have come to expect from Senegalese singers. He doesn’t sound like either Youssou N’Dour or Baaba Maal, yet we might guess he is from the same part of the world. Daby may already be well known in Senegal, but this is his first international release and it could soon put him in the first division of the world’s great male singers.
If Daby had simply recorded his album in Dakar and released the results, we might have been quietly impressed. The songs are distinct, the backing vocals attractive, the musicianship impeccable, and Daby sings with warm charm. But it is the inclusion of instruments recorded in Belgium that lifts the album into a higher plane, and turns it into an endlessly satisfying experience. Only three instruments are added – accordion, saxophone and violin. But it is the interplay between these European sounds and those of the West African musicians that gives the album its unique flavour, taking our ears on a zig-zagging journey between city and desert, past and present, the familiar and the unexpected.
Jon Kertzer’s 15 Best New African Recordings (see under the October 9th listing) includes this record in the number 2 position.