Absa Gueye is the first of four volumes devoted to the earliest official Senegalese recordings of Youssou N'Dour, whose splinter group from the seminal Star Band of Dakar just French-ified the name to Etoile de Dakar. Very similar to Orchestra Baobab's early-'70s recordings released on N'Wolof, these songs were recorded in a Dakar nightclub (without an audience), so don't expect pristine sound quality. It's the historical aspect of hearing the first steps of the mbalax style performed au naturel that matters here. Neither the album or the band is just a showcase for N'Dour -- the grainy, deeper voice of El Hadji Faye takes as many lead vocals as the high-pitched, sometimes boyish-sounding N'Dour here. "Dom Sou Nare Bakh" kicks things off in an upbeat fashion with plenty of percussion, and "Thiely" features high-pitched vocal call-and-response volleys over guitar riffs and choppy percussion. The ballad "Jalo" was one of N'dour's early hits, and the title track plays his voice against guitar, percussion, and answering saxes, which play a more prominent role in Etoile's sound than in Orchestra Baobab. The last few tracks -- "Tu Veras," "Kouma Khol Thi Yao," "Esta China," and "El Hombre Misterioso Soy" -- all reflect the strong Cuban rhumba influence on early Senegalese music. The up-tempo "Baye Wali" takes off from a percussion groove and has a bit of galloping rhythm guitar, while "N' Guiro Na" is a slow, hypnotic ballad. Despite the treble-heavy sound and the odd musical misstep (it's doubtful that multiple takes or overdubs were options), Absa Gueye is a solid disc for listening, and even more than that, on the historical level.
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AllMusic Review by Don Snowden