Candela/TInder - 2003
861112 / label website
Discovered for us Yanks by Carlos Santana for whom he opened in Paris-Bery and continues to collaborate with, Senegalese Peulh nomad Idrissa Diop first crossed paths with Youssou N'Dour during his days with "The Sahel de Dakar" band. Penning various tunes still in N'Dour's repertoire today, Idrissa later emigrated to France to launch the fusion group "Sixun" with whom he recorded Couleurs, Rebelle and Conscience Collective. He also crops up on Ralph Thamar's Africains et Antillais, St. Germain's popular Tourist and Ray Lema's Safi. Handpicked to perform for the BBC's Millenium Broadcast, Diop's latest attack on international Jazz/Funk/Latin/Rock fusion awareness is Yakar, a generously lengthy, stylistically creative, strongly happening album released in the US due to Santana's enthusiastic support. It combines surprisingly coincident strands of Juju, Mbalax, Celtic, Cuban, French/Caribbean and Reggae motifs with Funk slap bass, Jazz guitar riffs, African-style backup chorus, Latin piano and brass section and a 7-headed percussion contingent.

Armed with a slightly hoarse, somewhat fragile tenor expressed in Wolof and French while co-jamming in the rhythm section, Diop's primary appeal isn't as glamorous vocal frontman. Rather, his true gift is as brilliant tunesmith and arranger. He wisely surrounds himself with six powerful backup singers and a vibrant, densely populated band that absorb his vocal contributions as merely another instrument rather than highlighting him as a heroic soloist. How cleverly this is exploited shows in the tenderly reggae'fied "Tire Ailleurs" with Robert Le Gall's jazzy violin. Diop's edgier, rougher charm is craftily set against the harmonizing chorus like distressed, sun-burnished leather banded with raw silk. Or take the down-tempo, cafe-au-lait "Africains et Antillais" chanson meditation with Parisian musette violin, on the common ground between Africans and West-Indians. Juxtaposed against duetizing Ralph Thamar's suave, far more polished pipes, Idrissa's rustier whistle and drier delivery is smartly enhanced by contrast.

Then there are straightaway testosterone chasers like "Life's" heated Power-Funk trading between the brass and chorus sections over growling 5-string bass riffs; "Sopante's" Cuban salsa scorcher; "Dolof Man's" Mambo-Funk fusion; and "Dieuf's" Keita-esque vocal warnings about the consequences of man's actions that rise like winged ambassadors above pulsating, churning bass/brass energy. This same wallop also drives "Dara" with maniacally offset yet precisely delivered "Tower of Power" heavy-metal attacks. This latter reminiscence -- about what was most inspired during the reign of "EW&F" -- remains a continuous thread.

It underlies the entire album with brilliant ensemble coherence and top-flight playing. It marries the jam-happy flights of Funk fancy with the incisive virtuosity of Latin ensembles, then adds a cosmopolitan French/African context. Yakar is high-energy, high-impact. It's peak-level reckless world-party fusion. It's asking to be played at elevated full-range levels. It's jubilant and full of surprises. It's ambitious in scope, self-assured in delivery - in short, destined to make countless friends amongst the young-at-heart and bouncy of spirit.