There used to be an unfortunate tendency, and perhaps there still is among less informed people, to lump world music into general geographical groupings. There was African, Indian, Caribbean, Latin, and so on. While this is a thing of the past, we could easily fall into the next level of generalization, which would be to categorize music by nation, as if there were one sound alone that characterized a country.
Assumptions like these are made on our still limited exposure to the artists from these countries. As more and more artists come to our attention, it becomes obvious you can no more say that about acts from Senegal then you could from Great Britain or Canada. In an attempt to ensure this doesn’t happen the company World Music Net has come up with a fine series of records, Introducing, which opens our ears to the variety that each country has to offer.
One of their latest offerings is Introducing Daby Balde a singer/songwriter from Senegal. Unlike his more famous contemporary Baaba Maal, Daby Balde is from the southern part of Senegal and has been exposed to a different musical tradition. Balde was born in the city of Kolda, Fouladou, a part of Senegal cut off from the north, as it is crammed in between Gambia and Buinea-Bissau.
At the age of eleven he was already composing songs for a variety of traditional services. The only problem was that according to his family’s status, nobility, it was not considered appropriate for him to pursue music as a career. In 1987 he moved to Gambia where he lived for six years establishing himself as a singer. It wasn’t until 1994 that he obtained any level of recognition, and that was when he was named lead singer of his hometown of Kolda’s orchestra.
Compared to other music of Senegal, his sound is subdued, not that the rhythms aren’t still infectious and danceable, but there is not the full-out assault on the senses that one has come to associate with the dance music of West Africa. Most likely this is due to the instruments being played, and what we would consider a more folk-like quality to his music.
The inclusion of violin and accordion in his band along with guitars and the traditional African stringed instrument Kora give his songs a less percussion-driven sound. If anyone remembers the South African group Julaka from the eighties, or even the guitar-oriented work of Nigerian King Sunny Ade, it would give you an inclination as to what his sound resembles.
As with other musicians from this part of Africa, the impetus for creating music comes from the local tradition of singer/historians/teachers who serve their communities through maintenance of oral histories. Daby still performs specifically for traditional rituals and ceremonies in his home territory, and this colours the format of his commercial music.
Songs will focus on a specific theme he considers important; from simple teachings about making the most of your life through the telling of stories from the past, to describing the lives of African women, and songs exhorting people to support each other in their attempts to succeed for the sake of Africa, all of his songs are message-driven. Singing in a variety of dialects, he tries to reach as many of the peoples of Senegal as possible, and provide an example of how it is possible for there to be unity between the disparate elements of tribal peoples.
Of course the majority of meanings are lost on our ears, as we don’t understand the language he sings in, but the belief in the message comes through in the sincerity exuded by Daby’s voice. Perhaps it’s because he is just being “discovered”, but his sound is definitely rawer and less produced than other African musicians I’ve heard. It’s this simplicity that pulls focus on to the lyrics and the singer, even in spite of our inability to comprehend the language.
The included booklet supplies good information about the artist, and nice précis of each song. The disc also contains an mpeg file; a video of the song “Mamadiyel” that can be watched by putting the disc into the CD drive of your computer, Mac. or PC. It can be opened with either Windows Media Player or Quick Time.
Introducing Daby Balde is an album that does more than introduce a new talent, it also increases our awareness of the variety of music that is being produced in Africa. Daby Balde’s music suits this purpose ideally as he is a wonderful performer with passion and integrity. This CD is a wonderful addition to anybody’s collection of popular music.