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“This is the kind of tape for which I reserve a certain level of enthusiasm, one that is so good and left-field that I don’t know whether to shout from the rooftops or bury the thing in my backyard.” So wrote Brian Shimkovitz about the lone cassette release from a Senegalese griot singer named Aby Ngana Diop on his mp3 blog, Awesome Tapes From Africa, in January 2010. In posting this music most readily found in taxi kiosks in Dakar circa 1994, it’s a safe bet that Shimkovitz chose the former option over the latter, a bounty for western listeners.
In the intervening years, Shimkovitz’s mp3 blog has taken on a life of its own, with him DJing these tapes around the world as well as establishing a record label that presses these obscure cassettes to CD, vinyl, and even cassette once again, all of it under the moniker of Awesome Tapes From Africa. If you’ve attended one of his DJ nights, be it in Tasmania, Asbury Park, or St. Petersburg, Russia, chances are the first song of his set was Aby Ngana Diop’s “Dieuleul-Dieuleul.” While Diop is considered a mystery here, the liner notes that accompany the reissue of Liital offer a differing perspective: “Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Diop developed a reputation for being one of the most sought-after taasukats in Dakar, performing with her backup singers, dancers and drummers at parties, weddings and baptisms of the Dakar elite, including government officials and dignitaries.”
At a half-dozen releases so far for the imprint, I’m hard pressed to think of a more raucous example of just what makes many of these tapes earn the tag of “awesome” than “Dieuleul-Dieuleul.” Full of elephantine drums at full stampede, marimba sounds on a Yamaha DX-7, and piercing whistles, the jaw-dropping “Dieuleul-Dieuleul” sounds like a strange hybrid of N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” and raw UK jungle. The song, which translates roughly as “Take it, take it,” finds Diop at a bellowing roar, her staccato and vociferous delivery juxtaposed by a chorus of female back-up singers. If you're not able to parse Wolof, it’s hard to imagine she’s not furious, her vocals resembling a machine gun.
The battery of hand percussion and Diop’s fierce yelps rarely let up over the album’s six songs, and the result of listening through the tape can feel like putting your head in a waterfall, the pace and relentlessness of the songs rarely letting up. Polyrhythmic drums propel “Ndame,” as does a strange sample of galloping horses and what sounds like a coachwhip (the notes say that the horse sounds denote “success”). Similarly tricky are the thundering helixes of tama and sabar hand drums on “Yaye Penda Mbaye".
The beats are undeniable throughout, and one wonders what might have happened had a hip-hop producer come across Liital in the mid-'90s. We know how Timbaland took Abdel Halim Hafez’s recording of "Khosara Khosara" for "Big Pimpin’", and how DJ Quik heard a Bollywood film one night and twisted Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar’s "Thoda Resham Lagta Hai" into Truth Hurts’ "Addictive". Similarly, there are dozens of unruly beats to be found within Liital that could have readily become dancehall riddims or rubbery hip-hop tracks.
In the history of Senegalese music, Liital was groundbreaking, the first commercial recording to feature a traditional female griot fusing traditional taasu with the more modern mbalax. It propelled Aby Ngana Diop to the level of superstar in her native country, a status she held until her untimely death in 1997. Audacious and exotic to our ears, Liital is the sound of ancient griots meeting modernity, the sound of beats made for both Dakar dignitaries and obscure beat fiends.Wide ThumbClearartFanartBanner User Comments