Introduction to Acoustic Music in Senegal

The growing number of listeners who prefer more natural sounds instead of electric-driven wizardry has focused attention on acoustic and roots music. One of the most acclaimed musicians in this genre, the blind Senegalese griot guitar player Mansour Seck, is coming out with a new album under the Sterns label. His guitar skill is awesome and his famous “red guitar” has been considered to be the best acoustic guitar on the world at that time. Entitled ‘N’Der Fouta Tooro,’ the album is heavily influenced by traditional Senegalese music.

As some record buyers appear to be moving away from electronic music toward more natural sounds in the mid-’90s, there has been an explosion of interest in “unplugged” acoustic and roots music.

A classic example is Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure’s “Talking Timbuktu,” a huge hit that seems to cross all musical tastes. According to World Circuit, which released the record in Europe, it has sold more than 120,000 copies there.

Now a new release on the Sterns label here, “N’Der Fouta Tooro,” from blind Senegalese “riot guitar player Mansour Seck, is being tipped to make equally large waves. “N’Der Fouta Tooro,” is named after the Northern Senegal region on the border with Mauritania, where Seck comes from. It draws heavily on the songs sung by the “riot, legendary figures in West African history who would sing and recite poetry about history and current affairs of the day.

The album is a mesmerizing collection of traditional and “riot praise songs accompanied by guitar, kora, percussion, and bass.

According to Seck, the renaissance of interest in African traditional music fits in with general trends around the world.

“The basis of all music is the traditional acoustic music,” he says. “The songs and styles might have been amplified, but still generally they kept the traditional form. Now in West Africa as well as Europe, they have reached saturation point in electric music, and some of the results have been a failure. So people are coming back to the original, the soul of the music.”

During January and February, Seck toured North America with Baaba Maal, who is a longtime collaborator with Seck and is from Seck’s hometown of Poder.

Maal’s latest release for Island’s Mango label, “Firin’ In Fouta,” is a huge success critically, creatively, and commercially. So far it has moved more than 100,000 copies, according to Mango. This release is one of the most successful attempts to make an album that will appeal to a wide range of people without sacrificing any roots feeling, with its compelling fusion of African-originated music such as jazzwith Senegalese traditional music.

But what makes the region of Fouta so special for the creation of music? Seck says, “The people have managed to keep their traditions alive there, because control of it has remained within their hands. This music is inexorably intertwined with their way of life and destiny.”

“N’Der Fouta Tooro” is the nearest thing to experiencing the essence of Fouta without going there. You can almost visualize the scene-sitting and listening in the wide-open spaces as musicians throw another log on the fire and run riffs with soaring vocals above the guitar, kora, and percussion.