Checking in with Cheikh Lo: A Global Rhythms Concert Review

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Emily Slider, a local world music aficionado, was in attendance at our most recent Global Rhythms Concert. She was kind enough to send along this review.  She’s reviewed Town Hall concerts in the past for KEXP

Friday, January 17th, at Town Hall Seattle, the Great Hall was transported around the world by the warm African sounds of Cheikh Lo and Thione Diop. The evening began with a solo performance on the kora, a West-African lute. One member of Thione Diop’s ensemble came out after the lights went down and danced his hands on the strings of the instrument, plucking them upward and outward to fill the hall with a harp-like sound. The entire ensemble came onstage after the kora player had disappeared backstage. The instruments played by the group were percussion, but a few of them, like the xylophone and the cowbells, played tones that became the melodies. Each song felt like a jaunty saunter through lush faraway lands. Thione Diop demonstrated his djembe prowess with a captivating solo. He leaned into his drums with the audience leaning forward in anticipation of his next strike, both the drums and the audience under his command. The ensemble carried equal weight as they waded further into a colorful landscape of sound together. After a couple of songs, of the bell player passed off his instrument and got up to dance. He delivered a beautifully choreographed dance, moving each section of his body independently then interweaving his motions to the roll of the song. He sat down without even breaking a sweat and began playing with the ensemble again. Two more dancers came out wearing ropes and grasses as ornaments to their dancing and each taking a turn demonstrating how to move to the music. The only female dancer was particularly graceful and athletic. When she sat down and began to jam with the rest of the ensemble, the hall was left to wonder how much talent can fit inside one body, and whether they had just witnessed the depth of her talent or only the tip of it. 

Photo by Roy Kuraisa

Cheikh Lo took the stage after a generous last jam session with Thione Diop wrapped up. He began his set at the front of the stage flanked by members of his ensemble on either side. He strummed a mellow song and released his raspy, burdened voice out into the hall. Without speaking his language, the audience could get a sense of his message just by the way he expressed himself. His necklace, a custom made leather and wood holds an image of his spiritual leader close to his heart to guide him while he plays. This, along with the crown of dreadlocks wrapped atop his head, signify his allegiance to Baye Fall, a Senegalese Muslim sect. The band had a more western representation of instruments, using a full drum set and a saxophone, but the sound was quintessentially African. The bass and percussion reigned supreme supported by an intermittent vocal melody. Cheikh Lo shifted from leading up front to behind the drumset, the spot where he began his career more than forty years ago with Volta Jazz. He started this portion of the set happily riding the hi-hat and snare, coaxing his ensemble into his sound. His lead guitar player played a tremolo on the neck of his instrument before surfing his fingers down the instrument and exploding into sound. Pockets of people began dancing. Some groups wandered onto the stage, danced for Cheikh Lo, and then exited to shimmy just offstage. The energy in the room relaxed enough for the audience to empty the pews and begin to dance with each other. The crowd cut loose as Chiekh continued to jam.

Chiekh Lo had not played in Seattle for over twenty years; and considering how much the Seattle crowd picked up whatever Chiekh laid down, another twenty years will not slip by before he returns.

After the concert, Slider was able to talk to Lo through an interpreter. A brief interview is below.

ES: I want to hear about what you’re wearing. Whose image is on your necklace?

CL: This is my spiritual guide.

ES: and you keep him on you all the time?

CL: Yes, all the time.

ES: For those of us who don’t speak your language, what is the message of you music?

CL: Lots of things. I talk about the spiritual, I talk about love, the social issues, and environment.

ES: Seattle loved you, will you come back again soon?

CL: Of course! The people were dancing! It was good.

Global Rhythms returns to Town Hall on March 1. Haram with special guest Marc Ribot will take the Great Hall stage. Tickets are on sale now.

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