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47 f Jamm Today


Senegal’s Cheikh Lô is hardly prolific, but when he delivers, he delivers. Elizabeth Kinder delves into his creative processes.


“T


here are people – and I ask myself this question – how are they able to perform magic? And I ask myself how are


there mysteries in life? Because there are mysteries in life?” The anodyne surround- ings of a corporate hotel lobby just off the Euston Road on a quiet lunch-time lend Cheikh Lô’s self-questioning a some- what surreal quality.


One of life’s great mysteries might well be why anyone would purposely dec- orate a place in this drab way, but Cheikh – gorgeously resplendent in a long, pur- ple and white patterned tunic with turquoise detail, his flowing dreadlocks flecked with grey pulled back from his fine-featured face (which is partially sub- merged behind splendid aviator shades) – is discussing deeper concerns.


“All these mysteries must come from God and if you believe, maybe you could believe that nothing is impossible.”


He is serene and positive. It’s a way-of- being rooted in his deep faith, the same source from which his music springs. And time spent in his company, like the time spent listening to his music, is an easily rewarding and uplifting experience, whether or not you believe in God.


We’re here to talk about Jamm, Lô’s latest release (World Circuit) and his first in five years, but it’s impossible to discuss this without also talking about his faith which, as long-serving fRoots readers will know (see fR161 and fR273), is Baye Fall, a branch of Mouridism, which Lô refers to as “black Islam”. It’s a religion where music is used in ceremonies as a conduit to the divine and as such can have healing powers. It’s also a religion, Lô explains, where “work is spiri- tuality”. For him the two are not separate.


“What I love about my religion, he says, is that my guru is not against what I do. Fortunately for me, he even prays for me, and that works!” He tells me happily that his guru has also advised him on his songs. “He listened to a song where I was talking about Mouridism, and the Baye Fall and he said to me, ‘You sang a sen- tence here, where you should have added this…’ and I said to myself ‘Well, that’s encouraging!’ It meant that my true love in life was accepted.”


It’s a world away from the Muslim view that music is the work of the devil. “The person who judges music as Satan’s music, for me, Satan lives inside this person,” Lô announces cheerfully.


“You know why? Because in Muslim reli- gion, the chants speak to God and that’s a song.” He starts to sing a call to God, his warm rich voice filling the empty place. “That’s music! And if you think that because there’s a tam-tam accompanying this song then it must come from Satan, then, no! It’s you who is Satan!” he beams.


In his songs, Lô uses rhythms, instruments and melodies that are used in Baye Fall ceremonies, as


well as lyrics that celebrate his beliefs. The relevance of these elements, he says, can only really be appreciated by those who know about them (i.e. most people in West Africa), but for those of us without a clue, his sound-world is so engaging, we can get wrapped up in it all without get- ting the references.


Photo: Youri Lenquette


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