Released first in Europe to critical acclaim, the debut album of Touré-Touré has now arrived in the United States. Touré-Touré is an African band from the West Coast countries of Senegal and Mauritania. They play a high-spirited yet gentle style of Afro folk-rock. Forgoing Senegal’s official language of French, their songs are performed in the popular languages of Wolof and Pulaar. Rich in vocal harmonies, their voices are underscored by delicate acoustic guitar rather than amplified electric guitar. The founding members, Daby and Omar Touré, are the second generation of a well known African family, one of the brightest family names in African pop music.
Daby and Omar Touré are respectively son and nephew of the extended Touré Kunda family. The modern Sengalese pop movement began emerging in the late ‘70s. Soon after, the early ‘80s gave us Touré Kunda, the Sengalese pop band led by the older generation of the Touré—Amadou Ismaila and Sixu Touré. In the late ‘80s, Daby’s father Seta stepped in to lead the group. Touré Kunda, which loosely translated means “Family of Elephants”, laid down a strong stomping beat for the past two decades. Among the first African bands to make an impression on the Western market, Touré Kunda has since maintained a firm place in the ongoing Afro-pop craze in America and Europe.
Being descended from a musical dynasty adds a lot of pressure for young musicians when just trying to develop their own music. More so because people are known to somehow expect that musicians coming from such a background should equal or even surpass their progenitors. Living and working in the shadows such famous relatives can’t have been easy for Daby and Omar Touré. Knowing that people would always compare them to their fathers and uncles, they wanted to come up with “something that would honor the family name.”
Growing up in the environment of extended family, some in Mauritania and some in the Casamance region of Senegal, the young Touré cousins were also surrounded by music. Although, as Daby Touré recalled to writer J. Poet, “It was the traditional music that’s a part of your life, not pop music. You always sing in the family. When you eat, for example, you share a song as well as food. And when we were older, we’d go out and play percussion on the street, to impress the girls and to flirt. Anything you can find, a cardboard box, a trash can lid, you’d flip it over and play.”
Also, “In Mauritania, there were not many cassettes or records. You listened to the radio, and that’s all. When our parents sent us cassettes or records, we were very happy. We were very influenced by Touré Kunda, and also by all the Motown musicians. And also Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sting, the Police. We listened to that a lot. Additionally, we loved traditional music from Senegal and Mauritania.”
Eventually Daby Touré moved to France to live with his father. “My dad would come home with other musicians to rehearse and they’d leave their guitars around, maybe three different instruments. Since I couldn’t afford a guitar of my own, I’d cut school and come home and play the guitar. My father told me I wasn’t allowed to touch the guitars, so I never had any influences. I just picked up the guitar and taught myself.”
It was after Omar Touré arrived in Paris that things began moving faster, eventually resulting in the musical collaboration known as Touré-Touré and their debut album. As just living in Paris means being exposed to music from all around the world, Laddé became an elaborate combination of the Afro-pop savvy of Paris mixed over an array of the various rhythms Daby and Omar Touré had been exposed to in Casamance. Touré-Touré managed to come up with their own unique style, a softer more eclectic Pan-African sound that only benefits from refined production techniques. This is very polished, sunny music propelled by gentle percussion.
On Laddé , all 12 original songs are fashioned around a friendly pop aesthetic. Each song times in at the pop radio standard of about four minutes and you can easily sing along with every song on the set. The album opens with bright, upbeat opening song, “Yorro”. The soft sound of a rapid Spanish guitar leads in and a balafon soon drops in the background to make cyclical lines. The balafon, a frame xylophone, is traditional even in guitar-based music, but in this song the balafon provides both percussion and melody. “Yorro” is carried aloft by the strong, lyrical vocals and choruses.
Of all the songs, a handful are recognizably closer to Senegalese roots. “Lémmé”, even though utilizing dance music rhythms for inspiration, makes early use of deep African drums. Followed by “Almudo” the clear vocal is early backed by the bubbling rhythm of a softly picked, muted guitar line before a clean tenor saxophone drops in for a jazzy solo. “Casamance” has a similar high-life guitar sound together with balafon but even includes use of a low “baryton” saxophone. “N’Gummoden” is likewise a bright sounding song, with clipped fast lyrics and a smooth steel stringed guitar improvising over the vocals. “Nénéh” has a charming lead in propelled by a delicate-sounding bouzouki.
I don’t understand the spoken language of the lyrics, but the composers said the themes were those of friendship, the African life, and love. After listening their bright cheerful music, I couldn’t disagree. According to Daby Touré, the goals of Touré-Touré are simple. “We want to spread peace and love with our music. We want people to live in harmony and peace. The meanings of most of the songs reflect that.”