Album Reviews

Cheikh Lô – Jamm

(World Circuit) UK release date: 30 August 2010

The music of Senegalese Sufi musician Cheikh Lô is rhythmically driven and delightfully balanced. His releases have not been frequent but the quality has been dependable enough to sustain his reputation as one of contemporary West African music’s key figures. If the title of Jamm, his first album in five years, suggests a robust hoot with musicians all vying for space and attention, the reality of this jam session could not be further from that impression. The title actually means ‘peace’ in the Senegalese language of Wolof, and the music here is appropriately restrained and subtle.

Everything is played with a remarkable lightness of touch. No individual musician seems particularly concerned with imposing their personality and talent; instead, everything is delivered in service of the wonderfully relaxed, effortless feel of the music. This suggest that the joint decision Lô and World Circuit manager Nick Gold made to scrap the full band recordings in favour of working from the original demos was sensible. Even when Conia ends with a dynamic, dexterous percussion solo, the playing feels empathetic rather than emphatic.

Even Lô himself seems to blend almost imperceptibly into Jamm’s rich, amiable sound. His voice is soft and sweet. Although the songs here come in four different languages and the variety of musical styles is diverse, Lô’s sensitive delivery helps craft a coherent vibe that is simultaneously mellow and joyful. As Lô himself has explained, the album is bathed in a warm glow of nostalgia, including tributes to his musical inspirations. Seyni salutes both Senegalese rumba singer Laba Sosseh and the Cuban vocalist Abelardo Barrosso, giving some hint of Lô’s musical foundations. The breezy, likeable slow dance of Warico or the gentle lilt of Ne Parti Pas (lightly driven by the superb drumming of the legendary Tony Allen) are typical of the album’s mood and tone. The homely, welcoming sound of Pee Wee Ellis’ saxophone appears throughout the album, providing the warmth and comfort of a camp fire. This never risks being purely retrogressive, however, for Jamm’s patchwork sound also grasps for something contemporary and relevant. At a concise 40 minutes, it also ends leaving the listener wanting more.

Lô’s previous album for World Circuit, Lamp Fall, contained more forceful, insistent grooves and celebrated mbalax music. On Jamm, Lô is more interested in branching out and finding the common ground between West African and Cuban music and creating a pan-African musical sensibility. It’s much closer in spirit to his superb debut Ne La Thiass. The music bristles with rhythm and energy but that never translates into volume or virtuosity. It’s clear that Jamm is a personal album for Lô, dealing not just with his musical influences but also with his faith. Dieuf Dieul is a soothing piece with a lyric demonstrating Lô’s Baye Fall Sufi faith. Lô’s voice is at its most deliciously understated here, conveying wisdom and meaning without any kind of scene stealing showboating.

It’s this degree of control and taste that may bring Jamm to a wider audience. The songs here may be rooted in personal concerns but they achieve a universality through their assured arrangements and consistent flavour. Lô’s music is quietly inspirational, suggesting the values of unity and compassion. Jamm is celebratory and joyful without ever being aggressive or provocative. It is peaceful in the broadest sense.

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