CHEIKH IBRA FAM
It took a significant turning point for Cheikh Ibra Fam to realized that the time had come for him to come into his own and to do so under his real name. After four years with Orchestra Baobab, an iconic Senegalese band that has been around for over 50 years, and with three albums produced under his stage name, Freestyle, which established his reputation in his homeland, the next step in his artistic journey was a natural one. As he prepared to leave Senegal and the continent of his birth, all his experiences and personal reflections on music began to make sense, it was as if the puzzle pieces were all falling into place.
Cheikh Ibra Fam’s first solo album, Peace In Africa, is the Afro-pop fruit of this musical impetus, it is as much anchored in Africa as it is open the wider world, connected to his ancestral roots and resolutely contemporary. “Before, I was searching for myself,” the singer confided with a sense of relief and satisfaction that hints to his quest for an artistic identity. To add substance to his project, he felt he needed to go “back to his roots.” In Gambia, neighbouring and sister country to Senegal, he went to see his uncle, Coly Cissé. “one of West Africa’s best guitarists” who has played backup to many renowned singers. Their collaboration proved productive: in one week, the seeds for six songs had been planted, including “Dounde”, which tells the story of meeting famous griot, Jaliba Kuyateh, known in the English world as “The King of Kora”. The richness of songs brought together on Peace In Africa and the diversity of styles reflect the personality and background of Cheikh Ibra Fam, who now lives on Réuinon, a French island in the Indian Ocean. Programmed beats intersect with the kora (“Peace in Africa”), brass instruments brought in behind the guitar sound adopted from Senegalese folk (“Yolele”), a Cape Verdean melody floats here (“Diarabi”), the skank of reggae grooves there (“Diom”), conjuring up the young Africans who cross the seas to try their luck in the West, while elsewhere the artist sings in Bambara (“Ayitaria”), a song from Mali, where his mother is from. He sometimes sets his Wolof aside to sing in French, as on the remix of the original version of “Cosaan” that appeared on his previous album released under his stage name, Freestyle.
Cheikh Ibra Fam embraces Africa and knows how to give it its due, with the sounds and colours of his time, that of today, with some precious help during the crucial mixing stage from Hakim Abdul-Samad, ex-member of the American R&B quartet, The Boys. The added value of Peace In Africa lies in the expertise that Cheikh Ibra Fam has accumulated: ow only 35 years old, he spent six years at the Milan Conservatory in Italy, gaining valuable knowledge and experience with a wide range of instruments. As a young child, he was lulled to sleep by the records his mother played in the family home in Dakar, whether the Cuban Orquesta Aragón or the Dominican musician, Johnny Pacheco, a Latin-American star who was very popular in West Africa. When, at the age of ten, he discovered the music of Otis Redding, it gave his soul such a jolt that he only wanted to listen to that. Later, like others of his generation, he got into American, French, and Senegalese rap music but never go too attached to any one artist for fear being too influenced by their style. “I want to be inspired by everyone rather than one artist in particular,” he says, while acknowledging that “an artist’s career is like a building: it takes many people to build it.”
Among those who contributed to Peace In Africa, is Cheikh Lô, a Senegalese musician who is part of the same Baye Fall community as Cheikh Ibra Fam. The Franco-Cape Verdean reggaewoman, Mo’Kalamity, also came to share the mic, while the person in charge of the choruses was Mamy Kanouté, one of the principal backup singers for Baaba Maal. The “fathers” of Orchestra Baobab have a very special place on the album’s guest list: Thierno Koite, the sax player who thought of his young countryman when a spot in the orchestra opened up and, of course, Balla Sidibé, founding member and singer of Baobab Orchestra. While on touring internationally with the orchestra, playing on the biggest stages, Cheikh Ibra Fam gained the confidence that he had been lacking. He also gained diligence and discipline, thanks to the subtle taps that Balla Sidibé deliver with his drumsticks during live performances for wrong notes or when he would touch the mic with his hands! The Future was the last recording the veteran musician made just three days before his death. Its lyrics speak of life and death. ‘This song has a soul,” mused Cheikh Ibra Fam, bearer of this musical legacy worthy of legitimate recognition. It was a final lesson given, before Balla Sidibé’s finale departure.
And fans will witness a successful take-off in 2021 which will lead to its higher point with the release of Peace In Africa (March 11, 2021 – Soulbeats Music), Cheikh Ibra Fam first international album under his own name, a rich collection of modern and all-new Afro-pop, a new direction for the singer but which is nevertheless a logical and natural continuation of his earlier music and collaborations.