“Youssou N’Dour took Senegalese music to other levels,” says Idrissa Diop, interviewed for the liner notes of Diamonoye Tiopite, “but he took the example from us.” The journey from Senegalese imitations of Cuban music to a more complex mixture of indigenous dance and foreign rhythm is presented here in the span of twelve tracks. This 1970s proto-mbalax band, moving from the clave-weighted sound of “Cintorita” to the obviously West African “Gueth”, with its cleverly staggered percussion and singing.
Diop, who chose the songs himself, gives a personal thumbs-up to “Caridad”, but everything is wonderful and sparkling. Listening, I wonder about the unpredictability of fame, the thing that projects an Orchestra Baobab into the limelight and leaves a band like Diop’s Sahel in the wings. As I wonder, I notice that I automatically start to justify it to myself with appeals to musical quality and nothing else, very defensively: “Well Baobab has that more intense combination of languor and better hooks so of course ...” But how much of this is really about the music, and how much is just anxious self-justification because I’d barely noticed Diop before?