In the field of African music Senegal holds an important place. Rap music, as in other parts of Africa, is successful among Dakar youth, but the work of many other artists is still rooted, in different ways, in the most well-known local musical genre, the ‘mbalax. Amadou Diagne is one of these singers.
Born in a griot family (griot is the name for the Senegalese troubadours-historians, keepers of the epic traditions of West Africa), Diagne begun his musical practice as a child. “When I was five years old, my mum started to buy me a drum every Christmas and I started to play at a very early age”, he recently recalled in an interview. Moreover, he was just seven years old when he played the drum and sang in his first ever public performance. Diagne later became a percussionist in the Senegal National Band, managing to play percussions for world-famous artists, such as Cape Verde’s Césaria Evora and his own fellow countryman, Youssou N’dour. After winning a web music contest he released his debut solo album, Introducing Amadou Diagne. In it he combines the Senegalese music tradition, evident in the use of djembe and other traditional drums and of the 21-stringed kora, an African harp often used by griots, with different sounds: some songs are accompanied by a saxophone and a cello, while Diagne himself plays the guitar.
Sung mainly in wolof and pulaar (the tongue of the fulani people), the 13 tracks are played in an acoustic, soft and intimate style, and use, from time to time, traditional melodies, not an unusual choice for Senegalese artists. “I decided to write very gentle songs, with a little rhythm. I want people to hear the messages I’m saying, whilst I’m doing gentle and simple music”, Diagne said to journalists, when asked about these features of his debut album.
References to the Islamic religion are common in the tracklist, and they are meant to convey a message of tolerance and respect. ‘Dabakh’, dedicated to a beloved late Senegal imam, is one of such songs. Thus, it would not be correct to label Diagne’s music as religious only. Many songs praise values both universal (‘Beaguele’, on love) and typical of Senegalese culture: in the opening track, ‘Senegal’, he mentions ‘taranga’, which, as he himself writes on his website “means that no one should go hungry, that family and community all help each other out in life”. And family is another of the main themes: in ‘Jigen’, a song intended to call for a great respect for women, the artist names his mother, whom he also writes an entire song for, called ‘Mam’.
Nevertheless, Amadou also manages to approach political themes. This, too, is not rare in Senegalese music (rap singers and Youssou N’dour also played a political role before and after the last presidential elections), but ‘Introducing…’ deals with this theme in a personal way: in ‘Africa stop war’ (entirely sung in English) the former National Band percussionist asks for peace in the continent, bearing in mind – in particular - the long-lasting conflicts in Somalia and the Ivory Coast. He also makes a reference to an equally sensitive, but more local theme in the song ‘Talibé’: talibés are children belonging to poor families who, instead of going to school, are forced by their parents to beg for food and money on the streets. In the lyrics Diagne asks families to make a responsible choice and decide to send their children to school, because education, from his point of view, means a chance for a better life and future for the young, even if it is hard to afford for many people.
The album title, ‘Introducing…’ indeed describes its nature well, as the songs do not only mark the international debut of an artist, but also include a great range of themes; a good way to approach a rich – and still living – musical tradition.