Omar Pene / Super Diamono

Direct From Dakar

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Senegal's Omar Pene & Super Dianamo might play m'balax, the same style that helped make an international star out of Youssou N'Dour, but their take on it is very different. Instead of a busy, chattering talking drum puncturing the rhythm, they use horns and, especially, the guitar to establish their rhythms, and draw from a number of musical sources, including the sophistication jazz chordings and even reggae, whose influence can be slightly felt on the opener "Aral Sa." And unlike his countryman, Pene doesn't possess the high griot's wail; his voice is deeper and more soulful, more attuned to American music, particularly soul, which seems to have influenced the political "Soweto," with its smoking guitar solo from Doudou Konare. But m'balax is far from their limit. They can happily essay a delicate waltz like "Niane," given an unusual edge by African percussion before roaring back into the edgy "Coumba Xaliss" or the bass-driven "Gaïnde," with its remarkably complex rhythm that still manages to get the feet tapping. The highlight, however, must be "Xamlene," which is like Earth Wind and Fire gone to West Africa -- driving, funky, and very danceable -- with Pene at his most emotional. Fiery stuff, indeed. But while the band might be Direct From Dakar, the album isn't -- it was recorded at Real World Studios in England. But even the damp climate doesn't diminish the musical heat.

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