Cheikh Lō ‘Balbalou’ (Chapter Two) 5/5

cheikh-lōVeteran Senegalese singer Cheikh Lō returns for his first album in a full five years and what a superlative recording it is too. At his best in the mid-1990s Lō succeeded in combining his West African roots with Brazilian, Congolese and even Cuban rhythms and this brand new venture is every bit as good, if not slightly superior. A melodic mid-tempo opener, ‘Baramba’ features talking drum and collective female harmonies and this is classic Lō terrain. This writer’s favourite remains the trio with Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and accordionist Fixi on’ Duegg Gui’ and the clipped reggae guitar, West African percussion and accordion combine to marvellous effect. For a major departure and fascinating title track, ‘Balbalou’ has a sparse feel with guest trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf adding to the gentle layered texture. In contrast ‘Suzanah’, with its subtle use of kora and other percussion is the kind of song that Paul Simon might have written and that is praise indeed. On the driving ‘Doyal Naniou’, which is an ode of sorts to Africa, the atmospheric horns and monologue add credence to the ‘Africa unite’ chant and Malian diva Oumou Sangaré is o hand with supporting vocals. Matters are rounded off by a splendid and instantly recognisable digipak black sleeve with useful English language biographical notes. A milestone recording for Cheikh Lō and set to be the new African album of the summer.

Tim Stenhouse