July 29, 2013

Vocabulary

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.

GR 7604

6 comments:

glinka21 said...

As you say; but still, I think one of the real virtues of the disc is that for the most part you don't hear the synth sounds. The rot had yet to fully set in. And yes, I know I'm being very harsh, but while I can tolerate many different instruments played in many different ways, synthesized sounds added to anything except other synthesized sounds just doesn't work well for me. Old-fashioned, I know.

jan duinkerken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jan duinkerken said...

goed spul

NGONI said...

For once I disagree with part of the comment, I for a while, also had phobia to synthesizers and all sorts of electronic devices, especially those who work with rhythms.
Currently recognize that you can't create with them, for example, a sound quality that occurs playing with a wooden instrument, but if we forget that some artists can not, (or will not) choose, we can enjoy the art created by that little monster, that sometimes has the quality of art with capital letters.

The other possibility is to reject it and stop enjoying hours of wonderful music that has taken place over the last thirty years, especially in the Sahelian area and Arab countries.

Instruments aside, Super Diamono is a band with a very definite cultural content, it is necessary to "connect" to fully enjoy the music.

glinka21 said...

Well, yes, rejecting synthesized performances does reject many hours of music. But given how short and tenuous life is, and how much wonderful music there is, it makes sense to select the musics to listen to that we enjoy, once we've heard many styles and can make informed choices. I may not spend any time hearing Omar Pene, or for that matter, Anton Webern, but this leaves me more time to listen to Franco, or the 15th century Franco-Flemish school of composers. Each to their own, as it should be. And while Super Diamano is culturally important, so are listerally dozens of modern Hungarian ethno-folk groups--will you sacrifice time on the first, to spend hundreds of hours on the second? (My collection of 100+ Hungarian CDs suggests I might.)

None of this is said in a spirit of disputation. I'm only suggesting that everybody has the right to their own tastes, regardless of how that shapes their listening habits. All to the good.

aduna said...

Hello,
I think there's a mistake with cover credits. Bob Sene was the bass player and Baila Diagne (drummer Ousmane "Lappa" Diagne big brother) was the guitarist & band leader at this time.Baila Diagne took young Omar Pene from streets & football to sing with Diamono.
I have the same lp from an other label (Disques M.A.G. - MAG 105) with a (more) ridiculous cover (same as here : http://globalgroovers.blogspot.com/2008/08/super-jamano-de-dakar-geedy-dayaan.html) and probably wrong credits too.
For my own (i'm a Super Diamono huge fan), i like keyboards touches at these times (not playing marimba & replacing horns section)
Thanks.