Wednesday, December 08, 2010

ON DIT MERCI song / video - Dakar, Senegal Nov. 2010

When Souleymane “Jules” Kane (manager for Cheikh Lô and Daara J) invited me to perform in Dakar for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1st, 2010 and requested that I write a song for the event, I took it as a challenge. After hearing tragic ineffectual songs for years about “children crying” and “people dying” written about such subjects, was there a way a song that somehow could be positive, inspiring, even funny, in relation to such a terrible disease?

The result was “ON DIT MERCI” The song describes that moment during lovemaking when a couple pauses (the music pauses, too) to reach for a condom … and how that decision is a celebration of good health, safety, love, and protection for oneself and one’s children.


Since it would be written in Wolof and French, I collaborated via Skype and email on the lyric translations with my dear friends Badou Boussou for the Wolof (lives in Canada) and Carmen Odimba for the French (she lives in Germany). Plus, Fallou Ndiaye from Groupe Goorgoorlu, enthusiastically sang me a whole verse he’d created in Wolof at top volume from a street in Dakar … complete with buses rolling by and me shouting, “Encore? Encore! C’est difficile te comprendre avec tout le bruit (noise).”

Fallou Ndiaye and I on the way to a performance in Dakar, SenegalPhotobucket

When I realized that my schedule would not allow me to perform for the festival, I went to Dakar early .. in November. I asked Jimi Mbaye’s engineer, Moussa Niang, if Jimi’s studio was free while he was touring with Youssou N’Dour? “Sure!” said Moussa, “come over!” At Keur Dogo (Jimi’s house), Moussa got on the phone. Most of my own Dakar-based musicians were away, touring with Cheikh Lô, so Moussa called some other A-list musicians. I wanted to hug him as I heard him explain in Wolof, “Yes, she is toubab (a foreigner) but she doesn’t have a ton of money. It’s just a quick session to record one song.”

Bless them, they all said, “Waaw Waaw!” and the next night we gathered at 6pm. Jeannot Mendy (guitar) plays with Viviane and is super accomplished and gifted. He nearly came to Berklee School of Music in the States, but circumstances kept him in Dakar. Ibou Mbaye (keyboards) was a total master of mbalax piano playing. Really gentle spirit, twinned with furious flying fingers. Abdourakhman Fall (bass) performs with Jeannot … another super gifted musician. The ever firey Aliou Seck (sabar) used to play with my idol, Ndongo Lo, and performed with me last April in Dakar. Pape Ablaye Dieng (drums) is a master of taste and space and also performed with me last April. Yatma Thiam (tama) is Assan Thiam’s son, a young superstar over there, and gave the session 150% … super creative and hilarious. And finally, Fallou Ndiaye, Bamba Gueye, and Djilly Mbaye of Groupe Goorgoorlu arrived later to contribute their utterly brilliant and hilarious spoken tassou to the song.

Abdourakhman Fall (bass), Moussa Niang (realisateur), Aliou Seck (sabar) Ibou Mbaye (piano)Photobucket

Jeannot Mendy (guitar) Ibou Mbaye (piano) Yours Truly and Aliou Seck (sabar)Photobucket

What a magical night! The musicians learned the music and made it their own at lightening speed, all in an atmosphere of so much laughter and connection. Everyone knew everyone, so it felt like a reunion. They praised the song and LOVED the “pause” in the music, even while struggling to make it work with their rolling mbalax. Moussa was a master of keeping things running smoothly and quickly. No click track. Just a live take, a few overdubs, some hilarious moments while Yatma recorded his tama, and then me on the floor laughing when Goorgoorlu recorded their tassou. Lots of café touba and sandwiches, Jimi’s daughter Maman and guitarist son, Elage, hanging out, and, of course, constant dancing and clowning around. PARADISE!!!! I recorded the vocals in about 20 minutes and we called it a night.

Aliou Seck on fire in Jimi Mbaye's studioPhotobucket

Goorgoorlu giving me a heart attack laughingPhotobucket

Goorgoorlu teasing / singing songs about tama star Yatma ThiamPhotobucket

Rehearsing in advance. I recorded the vocals in about 20 minutes!Photobucket

Endless clowning around and dancingPhotobucket

with Yatma ThiamPhotobucket

The next day, Moussa and I mixed the track in about 2 hours … fresh, funny, and lively. Everyone loved it and insisted it could be a huge hit in Senegal, so Goorgoorlu called one of Senegal’s top video directors and said, “Hey Papis! (Niang) We have just recorded this excellent new single … would you give us a good price to film it?” Taxi to Papis’ office … more laughter and good vibes. Papis loved the song and said, “Yeah! Let’s do it!”

Video Director Extraordinaire Papis NiangPhotobucket

On break from rehearsalsPhotobucket

All ready to shoot for the green screen!Photobucket

The next two days, Goorgoorlu choreographed the song and we rehearsed in my living room. Again, Total Heaven. Not only are they constantly funny, but their dance combinations are so creative and tasty. Yes! I borrowed some clothes from friends and we met Papis at his studio the next day. Lights / changing / preparations / cameras set up / everyone ready and drinking coffee / first run-through and then …. The power went out. AAAAHHH!

Waiting for the power to come back on .. Fallou Ndiaye and Djilly MbayePhotobucket

with the delightful, super talented Bamba GueyePhotobucket

In recent visits, I notice Dakar’s power outages here and there, but now, they are really crippling…. not just 20 minutes or an hour now and then, but 4 / 6 / 24 hours nearly every day, with everyone lighting candles and stores losing masses of merchandise. Really tough. The Senegalese have admirable patience, but it has become a national complaint.

The next day, power back on, and we rocked it. Take after take after take .. all simple and direct in front of the green screen. When I wasn’t performing, I was laughing at Goorgoorlu. Later, we returned to my apartment to film the last segment, Papis and his crew edited the video the next day, and we were done!!!

As always, the Goorgoorlu and I spent most night in the clubs dancing and performing. Our wonderful playback at Ndeye Gueye’s packed new soiree at Ravin in Pikine had the audience screaming, plus we did some radio promotion and the usual round robin of baptisms, marriage celebrations, and birthdays. The minute Goorgoorlu arrive anywhere, it’s an instant party.

with Senegal's Dance Diva Star Ndeye GueyePhotobucket

Also, I had the honor of meeting up with legendary American music journalist, Robert Christgau. A mutual friend had given him my number, saying that I could take him to some concerts while he was visiting Dakar, so I took him to see Goyane singer Khady Mboup at Ravin, Yoro Ndiaye at JUST 4 U, and helped coordinate an interview with Orchestra Baobab. Bob was a soldier. When I told him Khady’s show started at 2:30am, he unflinchingly observed, “OK. I’ll take a disco nap!” It felt so good to see him with his pad of paper taking enthusiastic notes at 3am … a great opportunity for Senegalese culture to find first class exposure in America.

Meeting with Orchestra BaobabPhotobucket

With Legendary Music Journalist Robert ChristgauPhotobucket

Since returning to Los Angeles, ON DIT MERCI has been in heavy rotation on Senegalese TV, thanks to Papis and Goorgoorlu’s efforts. I have received scores of emails saying “I just saw your new clip!!” from over there. Plus, online it’s been doing well on YouTube and emailed to say they loved it so much, they were putting it on their front page. In three days, it’s been seen by over 11,000 people. How awesome is that?

Life is good and I am very very very blessed. I wonder what’s next?