In the past few days I have been in the precise mood for this classic album from 1984. I hasten to add that I am not a fan of this orchestra, Super Diamono (or Jamano) de Dakar, but I do love this lp.
The lp itself was given to me on April 11, 1986 by Donald 'Jumbo' Vanrenen, who at the time was still living in London and very much in charge of the Earthworks label. I interviewed him about his relation to music in general and to artists like Thomas Mapfumo. In re-listening the 3-hour interview I have not been able to discover what triggered this gift, but until this very day I am truely grateful.
Purely coincidentally I interviewed both Moussa Ngom and Omar Pene that same year. The interview with Moussa Ngom, after a concert in the legendary African Feeling series organised by Oko Drammeh at the Paradiso in Amsterdam (see the flyer below), was very strenuous, with Moussa answering in platitudes which seemed to be inspired by reggae lyrics. Omar Pene, who I interviewed at the WOMAD festival, was - by contrast - extremely businesslike in his answers. One answer in particular stuck with me. Asked if it didn't bother him that European audiences had no idea what he was singing about, he said that to him the voice was primarily an instrument; changing the language would mean changing the instrument.
Listening to this album I have to agree that the songs would sound ridiculous if they were sung, for example, in french. Omar Pene's voice is in perfect harmony with the instrumentation, almost to a point where voice and instruments amalgamate.
In general I thoroughly dislike anything even vaguely resembling a synthesizer, and I think the introduction of this demon child of organ parentage has played a major role in the degradation and impoverishment of musical cultures. Nevertheless, given that the damage has been done, the milk has been spilt and the child has disappeared with the bath water, I can think of far worse examples of the use of synthetic instruments than that by Papa Basse in these tracks.
It is like Super Diamono was attempting to invent a new vocabulary with this album. A vocabulary where the synthesizer would not sound out of place, totally superfluous and an economic alternative to something much better (i.e. usually a horn section).
In the opening track "Yamatée Née Law" the guitar, the voice of Omar Pene, even the well-tempered sax (after 2'07), they are all held together by the organ and synthesizer. The song is languid, moody almost, and the synthesizer and organ are major contributors to this feeling.
The effect is slightly different in the second song, "Indu Waad", also a ballad. The synth sauce is counterbalanced by the subtle guitar, which only just manages to save Omar Pene's voice from tipping over into the dramatic. Drama does prevail in the title song of the album, "Geedy Dayaan". In this song Omar Pene is the star of the show. His voice brilliantly goes from desperate to consoling, from tragic to loving. Please note too Bob Sène's careful guitar playing.
Of the three other (more mbalax style) songs on this album I particularly like "Muugn". Not so much for the synthesizer, which I find more irritating than on the other songs, but for the fact that Super Diamono demonstrates that the band can also make good songs without or with just a little bit of synth.