Wasis Diop: Music to Live To

A new album from the Senegalese musician Wasis Diop is always an extraordinary gift.  His latest release, Séquences, came out October 20th, and is available at Amazon as an MP3 – click on the album cover to buy it, or any of his other brilliant records.  Séquences further showcases Diop’s genius at blending the traditional music of many countries to create new rhythms and melodies – celebrating, never sacrificing, the integrity of his source inspiration.

Born in 1950 in Dakar, Wasis Diop left for Paris in the 1970’s to study for an engineering degree.   Perhaps that’s why his music feels so mathematically elegant, structured and precise, yet layered with nuances of passion and grace.  In 1979, Diop left academia to pursue music, forming the afrojazz fusion band the West African Cosmos with Umban Ukset and a host of musicians from all over the world.

Indeed, Diop’s influences span the globe: from the folk music of his home country to Parisian jazz; to his collaborations with Tunisian singer-songwriter Amina Annabi, reggae veteran Lee Scratch Perry, and Japanese avant-garde saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu.  He’s also internationally renowned as a soundtrack composer, mainly for his brother Djibril Diop Mambéty’s film, Hyènes and also the award-winning Chadian movie Daratt.  He’s been included on numerous Ibiza dance CD’s, a Starbucks compilation, and his song ‘Everything is Never Quite Enough’ is perhaps his best Western audience cross-over, in part because it was on the soundtrack to the film The Thomas Crown Affair.

All of this speaks to Diop’s well-deserved inclusion in the canon of modern music, and places him at the forefront of what’s often categorized as West African Pop or World Music in record stores and libraries.  But it cannot convey the astounding quality of his compositions, the profound resonance of his baritone, the multitude of ways he incorporates his guitar and a veritable orchestra of global instruments into songs of varied style, tempo, and tone.  Diop’s music is an exuberance – he sings in French, English, and Wolof, and always he’s honoring what is good about life and elegizing what is tragic.  Even the title of his album Judu Bék translates as “the joy of living.”  His songs are prayer and protest embraced in layers of vocal harmonies, stormy percussion, delicate piano, funky bass, spoken word, and at times even his wonderful, throaty laugh.  His songs are glorious art – and you can dance to them.


Here’s just a few of my favorite songs by Wasis Diop:

  • ‘Holaal Bu Baah’  from No Sant    That voice.
  • ‘Automobile Mobile’ from Judu Bék   Check out the video for this song, a poignant lamentation over pollution in Dakar and Paris.
  • ‘Mori’  from Toxu  Lively folk rhythms and guitar.
  • ‘Ma Na’ from No Sant  Love the way this song builds to rousing crescendo.
  • ‘Tui doah’ from Séquences  Gorgeous choral vocals and Diop’s own soaring voice, carried on strings, woodwinds and drums.
  • ‘Dames Electriques’ from No Sant   Just wow.  The vocals of the Sine Ladies, from Diop’s childhood in Senegal.
  • ‘Once in a Lifetime’ from Toxu  A Talking Heads cover. Diop takes this quirky song and makes it his own: imaginative, resounding, joyous.  Best cover song ever.
  • ‘So La La’ from Judu Bék   Dreamy and ethereal, with threads of electric guitar and drums to keep you tethered to the earth

I’ve put together a Wasis Diop Spotify playlist with selections from Séquences, Toxu, and Judu BékClick here to Enjoy!

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