Performance Friday, April 20, 2012 | 10 PM

Cheikh Lô

Zankel Hall
Cheikh Lô is one of the great mavericks of African music. A superb singer and songwriter—as well as a distinctive guitarist, percussionist, and drummer—he has personalized and distilled a variety of influences from West and Central Africa.


  • Cheikh Lô


  • Cheikh Lô

    Cheikh Lô is one of the great mavericks of African music. A singer and songwriter-as well as a distinctive guitarist, percussionist, and drummer-he has personalized and distilled a variety of influences from West and Central Africa to create a style that is uniquely his own.

    Lô was born in 1955 to Senegalese parents in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (near the border with Mali), where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali), Wolof (language of Senegal), and French. His father was from a long line of marabouts. From an early age, Lô was only interested in music, running away from school to teach himself guitar and percussion on borrowed instruments.

    At 21, Lô started singing and playing percussion with Orchestra Volta Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. The band played a variety of music from Burkina Faso and its neighboring countries, as well as Cuban and other styles.

    In 1981, Lô moved to Dakar, Senegal, where he played drums for the renowned singer Ouza before joining the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing an international repertoire. In 1984, he moved to Paris and worked as a studio session drummer. "I love Congolese and Cameroonian music," he recalls, "and I absorbed a lot of it during this period." On his return to Senegal, he found that his (now very long) dreadlocks made him no longer entirely welcome at the Hotel Savana, so he concentrated on his own music.

    Lô's first recording, Doxandeme (Immigrants), was released in 1990, earning him the Nouveau Talent award in Dakar. Youssou N'Dour first encountered Lô as a session singer in 1989. On hearing Lô's new songs, N'Dour agreed to produce his next release, Ne La Thiass. Lô's signature sound-a semi-acoustic, Spanish-tinged take on the popular mbalax style-was an instant success in Senegal, gaining him a dedicated local following.

    Ne La Thiass was released internationally on World Circuit in 1996, followed by a debut European tour. In 1997, Lô was named Best Newcomer at the Kora All-Africa Awards. Ne La Thiass was also released that year in North America on Nonesuch Records. The following year, Lô toured the US as part of the Africa-Fête lineup that included Salif Keita and Papa Wemba. In 1999, he received the prestigious Ordre National de Merite de Léon from the President of Senegal.

    Lô's next album, Bambay Gueej (World Circuit, 1999; Nonesuch, 2000), expanded on his previous work, drawing on sounds from Burkina Faso and Mali (with guest Oumou Sangare), and incorporating touches of Cuban son and funk. His eclectic mix was furthered on Lamp Fall (World Circuit, 2005; Nonesuch, 2006) by his discovery of Brazilian sounds and rhythms, working with acclaimed producer Alê Siqueira in Bahia, Brazil.

    For the next few years, Lô withdrew from the international stage and immersed himself in the Dakar scene, playing regularly with his own band; this return home is reflected on his most recent release, Jamm. His signature blend of semi-acoustic flavors-West and Central African, Cuban, flamenco-has been distilled into his most mature, focused, yet diverse statement to date.

    -Excerpted from materials provided by World Circuit Music.

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Cheikh Lô

In the Artist's Own Words

In Baye Fall, we have something called a jarasse. It's the multi-colored clothes that I wear most of the time. And the music on my album Jamm is a kind of jarasse because it has many colors. If you unite this patchwork of colors, what do you get? You get harmony, and harmony is life.

Musically, I'm very open to new ideas, new colors. That's the source of the variety in my music. I could compress myself, box myself up, and adhere strictly to some notion of what Senegalese music should be. But I want my music to touch people all over the world, to travel all over the world, to communicate with the world. So in order to do this, you need to have something that the world can understand. I make African music. I might be Senegalese, but I'm touched by many far-flung corners of Africa and by its different countries and languages. With each new album, I try to present music that is in some ways, dare I say it, pan-African.

—Chiekh Lô

Program Notes
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with World Music Institute.
This performance is part of World Views.

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