Print this Page

African Legends

Thione Seck

By Tom Pryor
Published November 21, 2006

Thione Ballago Seck descends from a famous line of griots, the traditional praise singers of the Wolof people of Senegal. Simply put, he has one of the most beautiful voices in all of Africa.

Seck began singing at the age of 12, and by the late ’60s was performing around Dakar. In 1970, he was tapped to sing for a band that was forming to play at the new Baobab Club. That band was the now-legendary Orchestra Baobab, and Seck’s otherworldly vocals helped fix the band’s early, Cuban-influenced sound. Seck also sang with the equally-legendary Star Band (whose other famous graduates include Youssou N’Dour and the core members of Orchestra Baobab themselves), all while still maintaining a traditional family group on the side. But in 1974 he left these other projects behind to form his own band, Raam Daan, a group he still fronts today.

Raam Daan allowed Seck to shed the lilting, Africanized Latin sounds of the Star Band and Baobab and experiment with his own sound: a unique blend of m’balax, based around the thundering Wolof sabar drums, and the romantic Arabic pop and Bombay film music that he grew up listening to.

Seck’s vocal style reflects these Eastern influence, with a supple modality that sometimes recalls a muezzin (or maybe a Bollywood playback singer), and his poetic lyrics are often infused with a spirituality that’s peculiar to griots. Though he’s not as well known internationally as his compatriots Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour, Seck is considered musical royalty in Senegal and his concerts and cassettes continue to sell out regularly. His latest album, Orientation (Stern’s), may be the big international break that he so surely deserves.

Recommended Recordings

Orientation (Stern’s Africa)
Allo Petit (Djoniba)
Daaly (Stern’s Africa)