Cheikh Lô: Breathing and Living Alkebulan Music
AFRICANMUSICIANSPROFILE.COM - Immediately obvious with his colourful patchwork clothes and rasta hair is the fact that Cheikh Lô is a member of the Baye Fall brotherhood. He was born and grew up in Bobo, a city in Burkina Faso where his parents, originally from Senegal, were living. His parents had many Sengalese visitors and kept up strong links with their home country in that way. Cheikh's early interest in singing and drumming was OK as far as his father, a jeweller, was concerned. But his mother was not in favour of Cheikh becoming a musician - she wanted him to study as his brothers had done rather than perhaps having a life of performing in clubs.
However Cheikh chose to follow music as a profession. He became a member of Orchestre Volta Jazz playing a variety of traditional songs from Burkina Faso as well as Cuban and Congolese music.
In 1978 Cheikh moved to Senegal and joined mbalax bands but was also influenced by makossa, soukous and reggae which were prominently heard.
Now well known as guitarist it was not until 1985 that Cheikh bought his first guitar and began composing. This gave him the chance to go to Paris to record. There he was in touch with international stars like Papa Wemba. His first performance in Europe was as the opening band for Youssou N'Dour on a tour. Youssou N'Dour then agreed to produce an album for Cheikh, the hugely popular Ne La Thiass of 1996.
One very significant track is 'Set', a remake of Youssou's original song which came about because Cheikh felt so strongly about a municipal strike in Dakar which led to rubbish accumulating and the danger of cholera. Youssou also sings on 'Guiss Guiss', a song dedicated to Maam Massamba, Chiekh Lo's marabout.
Cheikh's next CD was Bambay Gueej released in 2000. Appearing on this album are Pee Wee Ellis, playing saxophone, and Oumou Sangare (vocals on the track 'Bobo-Dioulasso', a tribute to Cheikh's birthplace) and Cuban flautist Richard Egües (on 'M'Beddemi'). Heavy Afrobeat can be heard on the title track.
Having performed on many major international stages, Cheikh's next venture was his album Lamp Fall (2005) on which he is the main drummer but also enlists a whole drum troupe. Pee Wee Ellis and Etienne M'bappé also contribute. Several tracks are highly influenced by a visit to Bahia, for example the track Senegal Bresil. Also Cheikh treats us to 'Ngaloula', a song in Lingala which he heard and memorised from the radio 30 years ago.
On his 2010 CD Jamm, Cheikh presents what he describes as a melting pot of songs including a tribute to the late President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara and 'Il N'est Jamais Trop Tard', a cover of 'Doni Doni' by Bembeya Jazz.
Something most worthy of note about Cheikh Lô's albums is that they all feature exceptionally meaningful spirtual lyrics and sounds of different influences.