El Hadj N' Diaye

Xel

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AllMusic Review by

While this is officially N'Diaye's second record, it's the first most ears will have heard, and it makes for a stunning debut. Unlike his Senegalese countryman, Youssou N'Dour, N'Diaye exists outside the m'balax crowd. Instead, he's a singer/songwriter who utilizes both African and Western ideas to put his music across. The kora and balafon play as big a part in the arrangements as the spare electric guitar played by Alain Renaud. The blend can be very potent at times, from the fiery opening title cut to the slow build of "Xale Bi," where the tension of the lyric and music rightfully never resolve on a song that needs to rest and climax. While not an outstanding instrumentalist himself, N'Diaye is adequate. His strong point is his vocals, heartfelt, even if he doesn't possess the griot wail of so many Senegalese singers. He is, essentially, a maverick, someone informed by tradition and modern Africa, but standing outside, looking at it, rather than a part of it himself. On the epic "Casa Di Mansa," about the result of the ravages of African war, the images follow each other, endless observations that form a bleak picture, a show N'Diaye as a poet of his time and place, and a talent to be reckoned with. Even if you don't understand the words (and the CD booklet has full translations), the tone is unmistakable. With his stinging arrangements, N'Diaye deserves to be a major force in African music -- if people can accept that he doesn't fit in any single pigeonhole.

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