Almost immediately after ‘mbalax’ star Youssou N’Dour burst onto the international scene in the mid-80s with his inspired electric updating of traditional Senegalese music, his hottest domestic competition - Super Diamono - joined the global running with their 1987 album, People. Although both sets of performers had their foundation in mbalax, their approaches could hardly have been more different. Where N’Dour featured frenetic rhythms, loud bursts of talking drum and time signatures of mind-boggling complexity, Super Diamono adopted a leaner, more powerful approach, around heavy bass guitar and murderous kit drums. The group was founded in the Senegalese capital Dakar in 1975. Like other bands of the time, they played in Afro-Cuban style, before forging their own brand of modernized Senegalese roots music towards the end of the decade. The stimulus came from a two-year expedition through rural Senegal, listening to and recording local musicians while supporting themselves by performing in village squares and market town dancehalls. In 1977, the band returned to Dakar with the fruits of their work. Among the early albums, Ndaxona is remarkable for its wailing vocals from lead singer Omar Pene, rasping guitars and roots-flavoured horn charts. Diamono then introduced traditional percussion instruments into the line-up (as well as additional members such as later solo star Ismaël Lô). A string of cassette-only album releases followed, before the release of the live album Mam in 1984 and the studio productions Geddy Bayam and Ndakami in 1985. Super Diamono finally split in two in 1991. One half of the band (led by Lamine Faye) joined Moussa Ngom, who himself had left the original group in 1988. When Ngom opted to start his own outfit, Faye established another competing group, Lemzo Diamono. Pene, meanwhile, continued with his colleagues under their original name, Super Diamono.
1992’s Fari featured Pene’s passionate, mournful vocals over a slick mix of funk, jazz, reggae and mbalax style. Direct From Dakar was released by WOMAD, as part of their Africa CD series. It featured a sparser sound with more of a live feel. Again, traditional Senegalese styles were combined with modern western influences, this time also incorporating a bit of rap.