It would be wrong to claim that Cheikh Lô has simplified the Senegalese dance music known as mbalax. Instead, he has refined and quieted it so that its hyperactive rhythms don’t feel as dizzying for those of us that didn’t grow up with the genre.
This elegant evolution, in addition to the 61-year-old being an outstanding songwriter, is usually the explanation for his great successes outside the borders of Senegal. This fact was cemented when he last year was awarded the prestigious WOMEX Award, which “honors exceptional achievements in world music on an international level”.
It’s without a doubt a late stage in life to reach such a high point, but Cheikh Lô has blossomed slowly but surely. Born and raised in Burkina Faso, he played drums in the varieté emsemble Orchestra Volta Jazz until 1978, when his musicianship led him to Senegal, the homeland of his parents. At the end of the 80s he was a studio musician in Paris, where he developed his soothing mix of soukous, reggae and mbalax.
Later, a he was taken under the wings of mbalax superstar (and presiding Minister of Culture in Senegal) Youssou N’Dour. He offered to produce Cheikh Lôs great breakthrough record Né La Thiass (1996), which has since been followed by four further full-length albums, including the critically-acclaimed Balbalou of yesteryear.
At the festival concert, which is presented in collaboration with Riksscenen, he will be accompanied by his six-man backing band.