Wednesday, March 3, 1999

Continental Contentful

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Don’t let names be deceptive. The Sedhiou band isn’t just a band – it’s a West African institution – and Africassette doesn’t just import tapes. Africa Kambeng is the newest CD from Detroit’s Africassette label. Rick Steiger of the Sun Messengers started the business to import West African cassettes that weren’t available in stores on this side of the Atlantic. In recent years, he has also launched a record label specializing in, yes, African music.

Africa Kambeng follows the Africassette tradition of bringing hard if not impossible to find music to the marketplace. The Sedhiou band, now in its 40th year, is the longest-running African orchestra. While it calls itself "an orchestra," the Senegalese have a different definition of the word than we do in the West. The Sedhiou Band is a dance ensemble, a huge 12-piece band specializing in a style called "Afro-Manding."

Its music is quite different from that of Dakar, Senegal’s most prolific musical export, Youssou N’Dour, famous for his mix of Wolof pop with touches of reggae and funk. The Sedhiou Band is from the southern Cassamance region of Senegal. Its music is based heavily on folk songs about farming, something that most listeners who don’t speak Mandinka would likely miss. The music sounds as hot and infectious as a Senegalese night club, 1000 miles away from the rural farms.

The instruments are Western, but the rhythms are pure Manding. Four guitarists and five vocalists shoot back and forth in musical duels backed up by large percussion and brass sections. There is even a touch of Cuban flavor on the record, as the Sedhiou Band – like many West African ensembles this century – has incorporated touches of Cuban son and rumba, which originated in West Africa hundreds of years ago.

Africa Kambeng is for all of the music fans who have been wondering, "What ever happened to those great Senegalese ensembles like Orchestra Baobob?" Well, some are still around, and the Sedhiou Band is one of the best. Better still, Africa Kambeng is also for those who’d like to discover a bit of Africa right here at home.

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