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Judu Bék
Artist: Wasis Diop
Label: Wrasse records 
Length:  13 tracks / 41mins  
It’s confession time. I have always avoided admitting that some albums are good simply as atmospherics, as it feels like you are consigning the artists to being makers of wallpaper music – a term that has always seems to have a derogatory edge. The full truth is this: we often play music as we would switch on a coloured light - to create a mood. There is no shame in that and neither does it insult the musician.
Judu Bék is a winter fireside album – even, warm and woollen. Even, because all the tracks are of a similar pace (a good thing: I enjoy being able to relax to ten tracks, knowing that the eleventh isn’t going to crash in and break the mood). It’s warm and woollen because there are no clinical tones here, and – like interwoven fibres trapping heat – the guitar lines, percussion and bass are woven together to create an ambience that seems to match flickering flame and orange light. But because of its dreamy, unhurried and exotic mien, its acoustic guitar also carries the feel of a summer Mediterranean evening.
Of course, having virtually all the lyrics of this disc in French does take the attention away from the content of the songs and onto their feel (I only managed to catch “comme les autres” and, in “Automobile Mobile,” the phrase “c’est la dernière voiture,” which is hardly enough to explain the meaning). The songs have more of a French tone than a Senegalese one, helped by distinctly jazzy edges.
Judu Bèk begins like a French “Private Investigations” with a low, muttered vocal over a wash of keyboards, joined later by some sparse acoustic guitar lines and the barest of percussion. “Anna Mou” has a very similar feel, and the 98-second “Galu Nobeel” is far too short. As its acoustic guitar and keyboards soothe to the core, it’s a feeling that you don’t want to end.
Like, it seems, everyone else in the world, Diop includes a version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” but he has adapted it to become “L’Ange Djibril,” a song about his brother. The rising and falling guitar lines blend well into this African setting, and Cohen’s title is the only language on the disc recognisable to English ears, apart from some lines that duet with Diop on “Let It Go”.
Imagine that music was not portable, and some African explorer had come across the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” and “I am the Walrus”. If he had tried to get the sound conveyed to his compatriots back home, and passed it on via a musical chain of Chinese whispers, it may – after half a dozen recreations – end up sounding like the album highlight “Ndiago Pop,” named after the guest guitarist on the track. Hypnotic guitar threads, keyboards and pronounced percussion make this like a piece of Senegalese psychedelia. It may also appeal because the riff is so reminiscent of Iona’s majestic “Wave after Wave”.
The disc’s simple, atmospheric beauty is hard to convey in words, but a couple of quotes from the back of the liner show some sense of where Diop is coming from. “When we were children we would ask all sorts of questions. At nightfall, everything would merge in to a deep tunnel of vague, fleeting, noisy and mysterious answers ... In Colobane, years would wind down slowly. A year was an immeasurable stretch. I think the children of the world do not have the same notion of time, because in Africa, time really took its time.”
This collection is highly unlikely to disappoint anyone who enjoys warm, leisurely-paced music with a gentle, jazzy Afro-European ambience.
Derek Walker
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