Lo riding high on the rhythms of Senegal
Web posted on:
Monday, August 30, 1999 1:04:22 PM EST
(CNN) -- Like many musical artists, Senegal's Ismaël Lo says he got interested in performing music "when I was very, very, very young." But his boyhood inspiration didn't come from the common source, family performers. While his Muslim father and his two wives had 18 children, Lo is the only musician among them.
Growing up, he played a homemade one-string guitar and listened to Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. He soon advanced to a full-size instrument -- "I started playing music with acoustic guitar," Lo says, "and with harmonica and voice. It's folk songs."
He initially played just for fun, never considering performing in public. But one of his older brothers, who owned a club, talked the hesitant guitarist and songwriter into appearing on a local television show, "Tele Variety." He was an instant hit.
Lo went on to play with the pop group Super Diamono de Dakar -- a band mixing mbalax ("uhm-BAH-lah") and blues to blend Senegalese and Cuban rhythms. After five years as a key member of Super Diamono, he broke away.
Of the several albums he's released since his solo career started in 1984, the 1997 "Jammu Africa" -- now on the Polygram label after several independent-label releases -- are readily available internationally.
Critics who have long waited for him to break through to stardom predicted with some accuracy that this release would give him mainstream attention. "Jammu Africa" puts him into the company of such better-known fellow world artists as Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal.
Africa 'is my first inspiration'
"Now, I'm playing very dynamic and rhythmic Senegalese music -- the name is mbalax music," Lo says. "And so what I discover (is that) my music is between folk songs and mbalax music.
"My music comes from Africa, which is my first inspiration. My message is about peace, love and respect to people, between country to country, and to stop the war. We have many problems with different (ethnicities) and I think it's a very bad thing. And I think people like more peace -- peace and love."
Of course, as songs such as "La femme sans haine" ("Woman Without Blame") indicate, Lo also sings love songs. That one, a duet with music legend Marianne Faithfull, is about a woman who's compromised her life for her lover. "You know, without love, no life," he says.
"Now, music is my life, and I go around the world to perform, giving the message from Africa around the world."