Mbalax Evolution

Guitarist and songwriter Jimi M’baye got his name from Jimi Hendrix. “I used to play tunes like ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Crosstown Traffic’ when I first started,” Jimi (born Mamadou) told me. The name stuck. Jimi became Youssou N’dour’s lead guitarist, after standing in for an ailing bass player and working his way into Youssou’s band, and Youssou’s imagination. They’ve been a team for thirty years. It’s not easy to hear though how a guitarist weaned on American rock and soul (Jimi also loved Wilson Pickett and James Brown) draws on the popular latin sounds embraced by many Senegalese in the 60s and 70s, as well as local roots rhythms, and comes out the other side with the distinctive Senegalese style of mbalax (pronounced correctly that’s BAH-lah with a throatal end, and briefly throw a hummed “m” on the front). So I asked Jimi to break it down for me.

Jimi M'baye and his daughter

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