Dec 7, 2012

From Senegal: Royal Band De Thiès

TERANGA BEAT proudly presents the ROYAL BAND de THIÈS in their first ever and entirely unreleased 1979 recording. Singers and composers JAMES GADIAGA & SECKA will guide you through the sweet melodies, wicked rhythms and vocal traditions of Senegalese music, in a fabulous performance that combines MBALAX with AFRO-JAZZ. While many bands in the world claimed the title of “Pacesetters” none can stand next to ROYAL BAND de THIÈS. The 9-member band with its dynamite percussion and horn sections will twist you like tornado! Tracks like "HOMMAGE À MBAYE FALL" will take you on a musical journey to the cultural crossroads of Senegal, West Africa’s meeting point of European, Latin American and African musical traditions. This real-time, two-microphone recording gives the impression that the group is playing live in front of you, making it hard to believe it dates back 33 years ago! The liner notes of the double gatefold LP and CD booklet include more interesting details, outlining JAMES's & SECKA's musical careers along with the past and present of the band. We hope you will enjoy!


The Royal Band de Thiès was formed by Mapathé 'James' Gadiaga in 1972, after he had left a school band Cayor Rhythm de Thiès. He soon called upon singer Adama Seck 'Secka' to join him. In their hometown Thiès, the second city of the country with more than 300,000 inhabitants, located around 70 kms East of Dakar, the Royal Band frequently performed in various clubs and venues, and recorded in Club Sangomar. Only occasionally they performed in Dakar.

They released a few cassettes and made it to reasonable fame in Senegal but never made it to international audience nor to an international release. Only a small incrowd of Senegalese music fans was familiar with them until small Dutch label Dakar Sound released a number of their songs on their compilations. Their music is loved for the expressive, soulful vocals and the raw and funky rhythms. The Royal Band's style of mbalax can be seen as quite recognisable.

Another niche label for Senegambian music, Teranga Beat, uncovered their first recordings from 1979, thusfar unreleased. The album « Kadior Demb » is the first full-length album available after so many years.

In 1984, Mapathé 'James' Gadiaga left to join Super Diamono before engaging in other musical adventures (Johnny Clegg, followed by a period in France), before creating Super Cayor de Dakar back in Senegal.


In August 2004, Greek DJ Adamantios Kafetzis was traveling West Africa and found himself in Thiès, a quiet city 40 miles east of the port city of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. In a derelict nightclub he was smitten with the band, The Royal Band de Thiès, and particularly their singer, Adam Seck dit Secka, whose powerful voice summoned the authority of the ancient griots amidst the contemporary dance rhythms. Scouring the city for recordings by the Royal Band yielded only a handful of dodgy cassettes, but the search inspired Kafetzsis to start his own label, Teranga Beat, in order to unearth previously lost documents of Senegal’s rich musical landscape. The discovery of a stash of archival tapes recorded by local impresario Moussa Diallo “Sangomar” Thiès has yielded a handful of releases, all of them excellent, but none quite as revelatory as Kadior Demb, the previously unreleased first album by The Royal Band recorded live in the studio in 1979.

The Royal Band de Thiès was formed by Secka and Mapathe Gadiaga dit James in 1972 and they were one of the progenitors of a style of music that would become known as Mbalax. Now the national popular dance music of Senegal and Gambia, Mbalax was initially developed in response to the perceived decadence of the post-colonial period and the rise of African nationalism. A fusion of Western dance styles like jazz, funk and Latin American salsa, Mbalax distinguishes itself from more Europeanized African music by singing in Wolof, the regional lingua franca, and the integration of indigenous sabar tribal drumming with the conventional rhythm section. James was instrumental in leading this charge and eventually left for greener pastures in Dakar, Pretoria (where he briefly played with Johnny Clegg) and Marseille before returning to Senegal to form Super Cayor de Dakar. James can be heard on Kadior Demb, his keening tenor providing a delightful contrast with Secka’s silky baritone and the nine-piece band typical of the era, complete with dual electric guitars and a stabbing horn section.

What makes The Royal Band’s version of Mbalax unique is their distinctive approach to rhythm. Accents and downbeats are subtly displaced, making an even number of beats sound uneven—all the while remaining imminently danceable—and this rhythmic device can be found all over Kadior Demb. On songs like “Cherie Coco,” “Korolober” and “Righie Righie,” a six-beat meter is made to sound like a measure of four plus an extra two beats, while on “Dagath,” an eight-beat meter feels like a measure of three beats plus five. These asymmetrical metrical schemes contrast starkly with the up-and-down rhythms of Western music and provide an off-kilter yet strongly propulsive drive. Elsewhere, as on dreamy ballads like “Ma Kodou Deguene,” “Doudhane” and “Sama Yaye Boye,” the duple rhythms are more straightforward and flowing but with the voices and instruments weaving intertwined melodies of complex syncopation. Meanwhile, “Hommage à Mbaye Fall” is the most Westernized sounding track, a long Afro-jazz jam session with moody saxophone soloing over a bed of two-chord, modal vamping. Nevertheless, it is as beguiling as everything else on the album.

Recorded with just two microphones at the Sangomar Night Club in Thiès, Kadior Demb, boasts astonishingly vivid sound quality, bringing The Royal Band right into your living room. Every guitar curlicue, horn riff and vocal line is crystal clear and extraordinarily detailed while the bass and drums pack a solid punch—proof of the efficacy of a simple stereo recording technique. The CD sounds great but I’d be willing to bet the limited edition two-LP vinyl edition sounds even better and would be well worth seeking out. While Kadior Demb is a glorious discovery, Kafetzis claims two more unreleased recordings are forthcoming. The resurrection of these long-lost documents should bring The Royal Band de Thiès the international recognition which is so obviously long overdue.


01. Cherie Coco
02. Kouye Magana
03. Ma Kodou Deguene
04. Dagath
05. Doudhane
06. Mariama
07. Gossar
08. Korolober
09. Sama Yaye Boye
10. Hommage à Mbaye Fall
11. Righie Righie

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