by Katharina Lobeck
While Senegal's El Hadj N'Diaye has created quite a stir in France and Belgium over the last two years, he has so far remained little-known elsewhere. Thiaroye is bound to change all that. This poignant album is suffused with deep emotional intensity captured in 12 arrangements of masterful simplicity. The focus of the music is N'Diaye's stirring voice, which soars above pulsating guitar riffs and subtle percussive accentuation.
From soft whispers to passionate outcries, N'Diaye expresses the entire gamut of human emotion with his individual, though characteristically Senegalese, vocal style. Besides being a remarkable musician, he is also an outstanding lyricist whose songs, dedicated to various social groups, have gained him the title 'voice of the voiceless'. 'Sans voix', a moving ballad addressing causes of poverty, is a direct reference to this role. N'Diaye sings for the people of Thiaroye, Dakar's most desolate district, dealing with their daily concerns ('Thiaroye'), urging them to hold their heads up ('Siggi') and to fight against injustice ('What causes things to move is stronger than what moves' NULL 'Lu Yengu').
The album also contains some of the most convincing love-songs ever written.
The heartbreaking 'Say Get' really makes you feel the pain of separation, whilst 'Wéet' describes loneliness with light melodies and intriguing allegories ('I was the cockroach who spent the day with you, the mouse that got on your nerves, the thorn which never hurt you'). The gripping blend of haunting melodies, floating guitars and inspired lyrics make Thiaroye an utterly compelling album, irresistible for its musical beauty and uncompromising directness. Essential listening!