Musical maverick Cheikh Lô is a unique figure, transcending genres and cultures to produce a sound that is unmistakably his own. His third album for World Circuit (U.K.) has a distinctly contemporary feel, incorporating different styles and influences whilst retaining a deep spirituality that is essential to Cheikh Lô.
Lamp Fall, Cheikh’s first new recording in over five years, came together over a period of time as Cheikh would add elements inspired by his travels. Recording began with demoing at Studio 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, where multi-instrumentalist Cheikh recorded the drums, guitars and percussion, laying the foundations upon which the album would be built.
Added to this was Cheikh’s distinctive vocals, of which Youssou N’Dour has said “Whenever he sang I was overwhelmed by his voice - I found something in his voice that’s like a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali.” Constant throughout this journey is the unique talking drum sound of Samba N’Dokh, who has been Cheikh’s musical partner for over 10 years. Also featured on the Dakar recordings are the brilliant guitarist Lamine Faye, brother of Youssou’s bandleader Habib Faye, and percussionist Thio M’Baye. These demos sounded so fresh and exciting that the material was retained and further worked on in London, where Cheikh once again enlisted the services of James Brown’s former musical director, the great Pee Wee Ellis, on saxophone. The Cameroonian bass player Etienne M’bappe also added his groove to the record in London; Cheikh himself added more drums, and is in fact the main drummer on the album.
As he began his career as a percussionist, Cheikh has constantly sought out new and interesting rhythms to work with. This adventurous spirit lead him to discover Brazilian music, and travel to Bahia, Brazil, where he immersed himself in the distinctive rhythms. With award winning producer Alê Siqueira, and some fantastic musicians such as guitarists Davi Moraes and Adson Santana, bassist Erick Firmino and the 40 strong bloco drum troupe Ilê Aiyê, they recorded a number of tracks featuring Brazilian percussive and stylistic elements. The track ‘Sénégal Brésil’ with Samba N’Dokh’s tama drum and the Brazilian percussionists is the first time this combination has ever featured on record.
Although constantly evolving musically, Cheikh’s lyrics continue to explore the topics closest to him, namely love and relationships, the dangers of war, the sanctity of childhood, and songs of praise – in particular praising Cheikh Ibra Fall (or Lamp Fall) the founder of the Baye Fall Islamic sect that Cheikh is a devoted follower of. All of the songs were written by Cheikh and are sung in Wolof, except ‘Sou’ which was originally recorded by Bembeya Jazz and sung in Bambara, and ‘Ngaloula’ which was originally recorded by Orchestra Elegance Jazz of Congo and sung in Lingala. Although Cheikh speaks no Lingala he was able to memorise the song from hearing it on the radio 30 years previously. Whilst the message may be deep, Lamp Fall is an undeniably upbeat, celebratory album, which weaves together a myriad of colours and textures much like the patchwork clothes that are Cheikh’s trademark, and brings him once again to the forefront of the contemporary African music scene.