Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 1998

Cheikh Lô

Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Sengalese parents, in the small town of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali. His father was a silversmith from a long line of Marabouts. Cheikh's sister studied and now teaches spanish, but Cheikh was interested only in music, running away from school to teach himself drums and guitar on borrowed instruments.

Cheikh Lô's musical inspiration comes from both universal and contemporary themes--love, destiny, faith. He is a follower of the Baye Fall, a specifically Sengalese form of Islam whose emphasis is on hard work and dedication to their founder Cheikh Ibra Fall. The patchwork clothing worn by the Baye Fall has led to his stereotyping, even in Senegal. "I love reggae," he explains. "I used to listen all the time to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and I did a track called "Babylon," but I'm not a reggae man."

Mblax rhythms (originally a form of drumming and dancing for celebrations) form the bedrock of Cheikh Lô's music. The focus is on Cheikh's lead vocal, acoustic guitar, sabar drums, bass tama (talking drum) flute with keyboards and drum kit add texture. Cheikh dedicates both his music and his life to his marabout, the mystic sage Maam Massamba NDiaye, and infuses the usual frenzied brillance of mbalax rhythms with a more intimate devotional sound. Out of his intense, wiry frame comes a beautiful voice that sings of the woes of life in exile, the virtues of intense work, and devotion to God.

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