Album Review: Cheikh Ndao & Band Manco – Swing Dakar – A mixed bag.

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The album starts with a fabulous bass groove. Then I open the CD sleeve notes and it mentions Cheikh Ndao’s “mastery of bass grooves”. So I’ve got that right at least. But the vocals on the first song are off-putting, not quite in tune enough for me, so I skip to track 2. It’s so different: like a Senegalese Barry White, a big demonstrative voice.  I’m not into Barry White, but this is much better; the smooth sound suits Ndao well, and the bass still grooves, and continues to do so through the rest of the album. The album title Swing Dakar begins to make sense. It’s not swing as 1930s, but it’s got a jazz basis with that ever-fascinating bass groove leading the way. This is not so common in West African music, though Cameroonian Richard Bona is a master. Track 4 Almoudo has that that classic West African lilt and reminds me of an Ivoirian singer Amos Kosso I used to work with. I wonder what happened to him. But the tune is too simple. Simplicity with complexity is what makes a lot of this music work. The next track Ngelaw is slower with a mellow Fender Rhodes backing and back to the jazz voice of Ndao, and bass/Rhodes solos. I like this a lot. I’d like a whole album of this. It fades out suddenly. I can’t get past the vocals on the next two tracks and skip them. Thiofelle starts again with that mellow Fender, promising. Vocals this time are half spoken. That works better and is real curious. When the song comes in later, it’s slow and easier to digest. Mbay is better, marrying Swing and Senegal well. I know a few people who could spin this in a African music DJ set. I’ll give them this CD as I think on balance I won’t listen again.

Mr Cheikh Ndao has something worth doing musically, but he should maybe take on board criticism of the singing and get a better singer so he can be free to give us those lush bass grooves. As the short album notes say. “Listen and follow Manco, it’s fun”. What I liked of Ndao and Manco was fun, and kinda cool. What I didn’t like, I really didn’t like.

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