For any of you looking for the African equivalent of Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family, this is it. Like Spence, Pascal Diatta has a style all his own, as inimitable as it is distinctive and fitting to the music. Sudden stops and starts, rhythms that repeat like you wouldn’t expect them to, and very hand-crafted harmonies make this album a treat of raw, funky, sparse, delicious music. It is totally devoid of pretension, and totally full of musicality. The guitar playing is so full of syncopation that practically every note and strum occurs when you wouldn’t expect it, and is unlike any other African guitar styles, being based neither on the patterns of kora/ngoni nor on those of the mbira thumb piano. And like the Pinders, Sona Mané’s vocals come from somewhere in the same dimension as the guitar: untrained, unexpected, unassuming, and fantastic!
On the surface, this music seems very naked, rough, even ‘primitive’. And there is a sort of 3rd-world happiness that pervades the tunes which have a quality of celebratory ordinariness. But behind this rough, simple exterior we find a very complex sense of rhythm weaving its way through the guitar lines and a refreshingly honest directness to the singing which conveys the wealth of human experience through the prism of joyful shouts and wails. If you’re anything like me, it may take a couple of listens to really ‘get’ it, but once you do, you won’t be able to put it down! The music is totally infectious: it gets inside your skin and makes your heart jump, but without any of the usual tactics of pop production.
Pascal Diatta is from the Balanta people living in the Casamance (South Senegal), close to the border with Guinée Bissau. He grew up as an orphan, and became interested in the guitar, but poverty forced him to build one himself. Over the years, he has developed a very distinct way of guitar playing, uncomparable with other West African guitarists. He sings together with his wife Sona Mané, following the same rhythm and tempo changes as Pascal’s guitar. The title song of their album, Simnadé, means “listen”, and I have nothing to add to that. A pity that the album, recorded in 1988, is difficult to find nowadays, and it is the only one.
Rogue Records, UK, 1989
With the music of Senegal reaching American ears by the thousands this year, the chance to hear this record was an incredible joy. Pascal Diatta is a most unusual guitar player. He plays a beaten Ovation guitar, a gift from a Western admirer, in a finger-picking style that owes more to the percussive sounds of the balafon than the melody of strings. He claims no influences, and living the simple life he does, it is almost believable that he owes this music to his soul alone. At times he sounds like a strange blend of Ry Cooder, merengue and too-fast ragtime picking. He taught his wife, Sona Mane, to sing in a style specific to the songs he writes, and the close har- mony of the voices tied tightly to the guitar lines makes for a striking and different-sounding music. I couldn’t begin to recommend a particular cut on the album, but rather that you follow Pascal and Sona’s advice: “Simnade-Listen!” – CF (1989)
Label: Rogue Records
Acoustic guitar and voice, live from Casamance, southern Senegal.
Re-mastered for CD with 4 extra tracks, the complete 1988 recordings.
“Manes’s passionate, husky voice stuns and enchants, sending shivers down the spine. But it is Diatta’s amazing finger-picking stop/start guitar that really takes the breath away, providing looping and spiralling patterns over and under the swooping and soaring voices. This is utterly extraordinary music” (**** Q Magazine review of original vinyl release)
1. Mesin Sedy
2. Bougna Oudistile
3. Quinto Djiranna
7. Dioudiou Coumbouta
8. Bouly Diatta
10. Diasine Mandina
11. Ado Camara Ile
mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ full scans
*out of print (only $114 at Amazon…)