Many African cities were hopping with superb music during the late 60s and 70s. Like Addis Ababa and Lagos, Dakar was a hothouse with a magnetic appeal for musicians thanks to an abundance of venues, clubs and like-minded souls and especially the exuberant optimism of a country aglow with post-colonial independence.
The previously unreleased tracks on Senegal 70 capture the heady spirit of those days (and nights – the material comes from the owner of Dakar’s Sangomar club), with a mesmerising, bracing and exciting spread of sounds. It’s a compilation that takes off in all kinds of directions as the musicians put their own stamp on the dominant jazz, salsa, soul and funk grooves of the time.
In the midst of sweet takes from the mighty Orchestra Baobab, the chaotic pull and push of Gestu de Dakar and feverish dance rubs from Orchestre Laye Thiam, a new and colourful Afro-Cuban mood begins to take hold. It’s the sound of a very special time when anything seemed possible in West Africa.
Senegalese popular music can be traced back to the 1960s, when nightclubs hosted dance bands (orchestres) that played Western music. Ibra Kasse’s Star Band was the most famous orchestre. After beginning by playing American, Cuban and French songs, Star Band gradually added more indigenous elements, including the talking tama drum and Wolof- or Mandinka-language lyrics. Star Band disintegrated into numerous groups, with Pape Seck’s Number One du Senegal being the best known of the next wave of bands, followed by Orchestre Baobab.
The south of Senegal, called Casamance, has a strong Mandinka minority, and began producing masters of the kora in the late 1950s. The band Touré Kunda was the most popular group to arise from this scene, and they soon began playing large concerts across the world.
In 1977, the entire rhythm section and many other performers in the Star Band left to form Étoile de Dakar, who quickly eclipsed their compatriots, and launched the careers of El Hadji Faye and Youssou N’Dour. Faye and N’Dour were Senegal’s first pop stars, but the stress of fame soon drove the band apart. Faye and guitarist Badou N’diaye formedÉtoile 2000, releasing a hit with “Boubou N’Gary”, but soon disappearing from the pop scene.
N’Dour, however, went on to form Super Étoile de Dakar, and his career continued. He was soon by far the most popular performer in the country, and perhaps in all of West Africa. He introduced more traditional elements to his Senegalized Cuban music, including traditional rapping (tassou), njuup, bakou music (a kind of trilling that accompaniesSerer wrestling) and instruments like the sabar.
In the latter part of the 1970s, the band Super Diamono formed, fusing mbalax rhythms and militant populism with jazz and reggae influences. Their 1982 Jigenu Ndakaru was especially popular. By the middle of the 1980s, Super Diamono was one of the top bands in Senegal, in close and fierce competition with Super Étoile de Dakar. The band’s popularity declined, however, slowed somewhat by Omar Pene’s reformation in 1991.