London-based Senegalese guitarist and arranger Seyni Diop has spent time touring with fellow countrymen Laye Sow and Daby Balde, so it comes as no surprise to find that the debut release of his band Taara is an appealing, melodic brand of roots-based West African music.
Diop’s snappy bass playing underpins the ensemble’s acoustic mbalax sound of guitar, vocals and percussion, with some intriguing European flavours added by guest musicians on cello, trumpet and clarinet. The band is joined by rapper Jules S Diop on two songs, his English-language consciousness lyrics adding a cool, modern edge without quite tipping over into cliché.
Mansour Ndiaye is the principle vocalist, and if he doesn’t quite reach the heights of more exalted Senegalese singers, his voice has a delicate, woody charm, particularly when harmonising with the sweet timbre of Binette Diouf.
It all works best on the liveliest numbers, in particular Imigres (not the Youssou song, but carrying the same sentiment of imploring emigrants to remember whence they came), which features subtle peals of kora from El Hadj Cissoko. Galath, too, bounces along nicely, driven by some fine trumpet playing from guest Jim Donaldson. There is the odd shaky moment – Diamano in particular is a little ragged, despite some sterling work on clarinet from Rachael Diop. Agresseur is a fine up-tempo tune, with Rachael's clarinet again dancing beautifully in and out of Seyni's crisp rhythm guitar. But it and its more percussive, mblax version are tagged together at the end of the album without being sufficiently disparate to really work that way.
But overall, with good, strong melodies throughout and (at 40 minutes) the good grace not to outstay its welcome, this is a very promising first effort.
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine.