All aboard the orient express: a musical odyssey.

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Orientation

Thione Seck

Sterns

Cat: STCD1100

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Thionne (pronounced 'Tchon') Seck has been an important figure on Senegal's music scene since the 1960s. Not yet as well known to the world at large as his fellow countrymen Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal or Ismael Lo, in Senegal he is generally regarded as the most poetic songwriter and the greatest singer of them all.

His relatively low profile on the world music scene may be transformed by this album, which one critic described as "a masterpiece ... a work that traverses history, geography and global culture with confidence, originality and verve."

With this new album, Seck not only confirms his place among Senegal's greatest artists but also leads international audiences in new directions.

Seck was born into a family of gewels, or griots--traditional West African musicians and praise singers. His great-grandfather's patron was Lat Dor, the monarch of Kaylor, who led the Wolof people's resistance against French colonialism in the 19th century.

Seck began singing in his early teens and his ethereal, melancholic voice was quickly recognised as something special. So much so that in the late 1960s, when Dakar's legendary Orchestre Baobob formed, he was invited to join the new band as one of a trio of vocalists alongside Pape Seck and Laba Sosseh.

It was in Orchestre Baobob, named after the Club Baobab where they were the resident band, that a new sound began to be developed. It was to marry the traditional style of the griot voice to the majestic big-band swing and melodies of Cuban music.

Seck was also singing with another venerable nightclub band, the Stars of Dakar, the resident band at the Miami nightclub--sometimes playing one set at one club before dashing to the other, much to the delight of his diriyanke fan base.

The diriyanke are the fabulously attired, bejewelled and wealthy businesswomen of Dakar for whom Seck was nothing less than their heartthrob superstar.

Take it easy

Nevertheless, Seck retained a more direct connection with his ancestral griot role through a family ensemble where he sang traditional songs typically accompanied by xlam (a type of West African lute) and various percussion. Then, in 1974, Seck dropped his nightclub commitments and with his brother Mapenda formed the group Raam Daan--meaning 'take it easy' but also alluding, through a play on words, to Ramadan, the annual Muslim season of religious fasting.

In the following years Seck and the Raam...

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