As an elected member of Senegalese hip hop group Positive Black Soul, Carlou D had a leg up towards a rapping career of which every kid in Dakar would have dreamed. Coming from a musical family, it was a solid commitment to music, rather than fighting social injustice – a theme that seems inseparable from West African hip-hop – that inspired him. So when he chose to reconnect with his spirituality by fronting an all-acoustic band, few doubted his capabilities.
Like fellow Senegalese singer Cheikh Lô, Carlou D follows the Baye Fall sect of Islam. He is also endowed with a voice that draws an instant comparison with the music icon Youssou N’Dour. Everything fits into place when he walks out to a packed crowd at Womad; the hair, the mess of beads around his neck and shoulders, the acoustic guitar – Carlou D’s general demeanour oozes calmness.
“The death of my mother changed my whole perception on life”, he tells Think Africa Press when asked about his departure from hip-hop.
“I went back to the spiritual side to see if I could find guidance. My music took on a new philosophy – pure love. Now it sounds similar to sufi, the traditional music of Senegal. My new style is flexible enough to incorporate many other influences like mbalax or soukous. Hip-hop in Senegal is restricted to the young generation, and that’s why I no longer see it as the right style for me. The part of hip-hop I have kept in my music is the courage to be direct. Politically, hip-hop is very important to give the youth belief that they can influence what the government does.”
Music had more of a practical role in the past than it does now. A particularly important instrument was the khine drum, which was used like a telephone between villages. It was used as a call to prayer, for example. The Mouride Brotherhood, the movement from which the Baye Fall evolved, still use music to help them chant and pray, and the rhythms of Mouride drumming is still an essential part of social life for the Baye Fall.
People often associate the Baye Fall with the Rastafari because of our dreadlocks, but we mustn't forget that Rastafari came a long time after us. We share a similar personality trait – calmness – but for me that's as far as it goes. The Baye Fall try to look as much like our founder, the prophet Ibrahima Fall, as possible. He was a disciple of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, the founder of the Mouride Brotherhood. One of Ibrahima Fall’s duties was to carry big bowls of hot food during festivals, and he matted up his long hair so he could carry them on his head. Today there is an annual Mouride festival in Touba. It is the Baye Fall’s responsibility to act as caterers, and they use the same method.
It you go to Senegal, it’s very easy to spot the Baye Fall. We wear patchwork. We pick from here, pick from there and we make something new out of it. We never wear anything fancy, that’s the Baye Fall way. We will always be there for Ibrahima Fall – we are his soldiers. We don’t want anything else. We have no formal praying, no fasting; even though it’s Ramadan now, we don’t have the same commitments as the rest of the Islamic world. We’ve got to be there for Ibrahima Fall, and in turn he protects us. He is in charge of our life.
Carlou D is signed to Motherland Music.
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