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Cheikh Lô

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Mbalax, the intricate dance music of Senegal, has been made more accessible to Western listeners by Cheikh Lô (born Cheikh N’Digel Lô). Softening the hard edges of mbalax and incorporating elements of salsa, Zairian/Congolese rhumba, folk, and jazz, Lô has created an infectious, hook-laden style of pop music. While Roots World described Lô’s musical approach by writing “complemented by the acoustic guitar, exploding tama, and free-falling electric bass , Lô’s voice has a rounded sweetness with poetic hills and valleys,” Real Groove Magazine explained, “with its enigmatic complexity and so non 4/4 beat, mbalax has had difficulty outside West Africa. Where even N’Dour’s overdone attempts to counter this problem have failed, [Lô] has succeeded. His acoustic approach gives a magic mbalax music that my friends can appreciate.” Cora Correction, also with a similar view, wrote, “West Africa has produced the continent’s most powerful singers and Lô easily earns a high position in the pantheon.”

The son of a successful jeweler, Lô was born in Bobo-Dioulasso, a small village near Senegal’s border with Mali. He grew up speaking Bambara, Wolof, and French. As a youngster, he became fascinated with music and taught himself to play drums and guitar. In 1976, he accepted an invitation to join a local group, Orchestra Volta Jazz, as a percussionist. He remained with the band until moving to the capital city of Dakar in 1980.

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