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Senegal's Alune Wade serves up classy African Fast Food

By Alison Hird

Senegalese bass player, composer and singer Alune Wade began his professional musical career as guitarist to Ismael Lo. He's played alongside big names like Youssou Ndour, Cheick Tidiane Seck, Oumou Sangare, Blick Bassy, Joe Zawinul... The jazz-inspired African Fast Food is his latest, and third, solo project: a huge canvas which includes tributes to both Miles Davis and a religious leader of the Mourid Brotherhood.

Alune Wade's father was an officer in the Senegalese army and conducted a symphonic orchestra. So music, especially classical, filled his childhood growing up in Dakar in the 80s.

"On Sundays in the living room there'd be Beethoven, Bach, classical and western music on one side," he told RFI. "On the other my mother would listen to Youssou Ndour and Malian music. My sisters liked Florent Pagny."

Alune preferred "music from Detroit like Motown, and reggae". He wanted to play drums but his mother was opposed: "she said it was too noisy, too expensive". In fact she wasn't keen on him going into music at all.

"In the 60s and 70s, the African or Senegalese musicians they were just like the Rolling Stones, it was really rock and roll or very dirty stuff."

His dad encouraged him to experiment though: rock, jazz, classical. He began with piano, but then another musician lent him a bass and he never looked back.

"All bass players at the time played like Jaco Pastorius [American bass player with Weather Report] but I didn't want to play like the others. I was influenced by the sound of Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke."

African Fast Food, Wade's third solo album Alune Wade

African Fast Food

Wade's played with a host of big names, but over the last decade has increasingly worked on his own projects. African Fast Food is his third.

It was inspired by the atmosphere in fast food joints in west Africa: sociable, open places where people drop by and discuss anything: music, sport, politics, films. He wanted to create a similar atmosphere on the album and invited the other musicians to "contribute ideas" for arrangements.

Afro-fusion, Afro-Cuban and freer jazz sounds found their way into the pot thanks to a very cosmopolitan line up: pianist Léo Genovese (Argentina), trumpettist Renaud Gensen (Madagascar), drummer Mokhtar Samba (Morocco/Senegal), percussionist Adriano Tenorio DD (Brazil)... as well as Daniel Blake (USA) on saxophone, Francisco Mela (Cuba) on drums and Brian Landrus (USA) on bass clarinet. Kuku (Nigeria) and Oxmo Puccino "the wise man of French rap" provide additional vocals.

Puccino does spoken word on the track How Many Miles.

"This song I wrote for Miles Davis but I wanted to find a funny name," says Wade. "Like how many miles to catch Miles Davis. How far away to go and understand [his] music."

Wade says Davis has been an influence, but not every period. "I love Kind of Blue, [his work] with Gil Evans, and then with Marcus Miller in the 80s."

The Mourid Brotherhood

Wade sings hauntingly in his native wolof on the track Mame Fallou: a tribute to the son of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, a Sufi religious leader in Senegal and the founder of the large Mouride Brotherhood (the Muridiyya).

"Mame Fallou did a lot for humanity, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish. He welcomed everyone and was very open. It's rare nowadays to have a religious guide with so much influence."

"When I was young I did a lot of Coranic song at the mosque or at home. We did it every Friday and Wednesday. It's a bit like the griot families in Senegal and Mali, we have high-pitched voices, we can sing both powerfully and softly."

"Mame Fallou is a tribute to him. I sing in wolof, but the way of singing is more Arabic."

Paris is like Africa

Wade is now more or less based in Paris but says he has more contact with African musicians here than he would back in Dakar.

"We can find Algerian, Tunisian, Senegalese, Malian here. That’s why I think we’re lucky to live in Paris because we’re still connected with Africa. I [made] more connections with African musicians in Paris than when I was in Africa."

Alune Wade plays on RFI's Musiques du Monde. RFI/Laurence Aloir

Now you have to do everything yourself

While there's no shortage of good musicians to collaborate with here in Paris, the challenge is getting published. Wade has honed the necessary skills to be independent: writing the music, lyrics and doing arrangements.

"I didn't set out to try and do everything," he says, "but it became necessary. When you can’t find a producer or arranger, you have to do it yourself."

Things were different in the golden 80s when Senegal's Youssou Ndour and Touré Kunda made it big.

"In the 80s it was easier for them, it was time of discovery. African music got promoted as part of francophony. But now you have to do everything: you’re artist, bass player, composer, you dance."

Wade has no regrets however and says it's been a good school, allowing him the freedom to make the music he wants.

"I’m trying to do my music very well so it can still be alive in 30 or 50 years."

Alune Wade's site

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