Pop Live: Musical trade routes
Friday 25 June 1999
ERNEST RANGLIN BARBICAN LONDON
SENEGAL MET Jamaica at the Barbican last week, in a double bill that paired silver-voiced West African Cheikh Lo with West Indian jazz- guitar legend Ernest Ranglin, so demonstrating the countries' musical links. Though inevitable, comparisons were largely unfair: genial elder statesman Ranglin - here with a big band on the eve of his 68th birthday - carved his own alcove in the Hall of Fame decades ago. Conversely, the reputation of fortysomething Lo rests solely on the strength of his impressive 1996 debut Ne La Thiass (Gone in a Flash), produced by compatriot and mentor Youssou N'Dour, the Senegalese superstar who was sufficiently inspired to introduce Lo to Western audiences.
Yet Lo, the opening act, demonstrated considerably more confidence in his abilities than on similar occasions. A slight, dreadlocked figure clad in the lurid patchwork garb of the Islamic Baye Fall sect, Lo and his seven similarly attired backing musicians delivered a pleasant enough set, taking in the polyrhythms of both Cuba and West Africa while showcasing the singer's extraordinary vocal range. Muezzin-like on praise songs such as "Sant Maam", lilting and sonorous on the album's Latin-drenched title track, Lo's voice was occasionally awe-inspiring. But songs from his forthcoming, highly anticipated second release felt flat, leaving Lo increasingly reliant on tama (talking drum) player Assane Diop to revive flagging energies.
By contrast, the ringing guitar sounds of Ranglin were an exercise in masterful understatement. Armed with a sunburst semi-acoustic Guild, the man his band call "Papa" demonstrated a hypnotic array of influences while deftly incorporating the prowess of his mostly Senegalese band. Exploration of musical trade routes was tonight's raison d'etre, the culmination of a lifetime of experimentation in jazz, funk and Afro-Caribbean fusion. After working with big bands influenced by American swing, Ranglin helped shape the course of Jamaican music in the late Fifties by pioneering the development of ska, collaborating with Bob Marley and Lee Perry, and releasing a series of classic albums before heading to Senegal to record last year's lauded In Search of the Lost Riddim.
From the strummed guitar patterns of "Up for the Downstroke" to the ska- tinged melodies of "D'Accord Dakar" and the delicate strains of "Nuh True", Ranglin padded around the stage like a kindly uncle, managing to dominate proceedings with improvisational flights of fancy while simultaneously emphasising the evening's collaborative nature by introducing charismatic teenage chanteuse Cisse Diamba Kanoute on the rousing "Wouly". Ranglin's thunderous encore welcomed a reinvigorated Cheikh Lo on vocals. The master had worked his magic again. Audiences at Glastonbury and Womad Festivals have a treat in store.
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