For ten years now Cheikh Lo’s music has been one of the delights of West Africa, even if his last two albums have not hit the heights of his 1990′s debut, Ne La Thiass. Jamm represents a return to form for the Senegalese songster.
For a record with such a spontaneous feel, it is surprising to learn that Jamm was constructed in a layers, with Cheikh Lo’s trademark acoustic sound – vocals and acoustic guitar – supplemented in the studio with the range of contributions including Tony Allen on drums and the peerless Pee Wee Ellis on sax. It’s testament to the skill of the production team that it’s such a success.
The charm of Cheikh Lo, discovered by his Senegalese compatriot Youssou N’Dour in the 1990s, has always lain in his laidback, reflective music making – although he has been at times underwhelming. Not much danger of that here. Lo’s large-ish band play a fine groove but never obscure the simplicity and heart of his songs.
Jamm features a pan-African range of influences. To pick a few highlights, there is the sweet Highlife shuffle of ‘Il N’est Jamais Trop Tard’, the lovely praise-singing refrain of ‘Warico’, Cuban dance hit ‘Seyni’ and acoustic mbalax number ‘Dieuf Dieul’. There is a consistent reggae vibe throughout, but the music is still highly varied and Lo never loses sight of who he is – no easy feat with all these styles. His voice is in pretty good shape too, the twists and turns of his falsetto as bitter-sweet as ever, while the lower-register singing complements his often introspective melodies.
As a Sufi muslim, Cheikh Lo’s music has always had a quiet spirit. Despite its dance-friendly vibe and plurality of styles, that other-worldly concern is always humming in the background on Jamm. It makes for a satisfying record.