Cheikh Lo and Simphiwe Dana in a quick interview

Two of African music's most finely chiselled faces talk about the universal language of music

In 1978 the Tama drum ('talking drum') was beating somewhere in the West Africa. In 1978 Cheikh Lo moved from his birth country, Burkina Faso, to Senegal. Here his musical talent flourished into a signature sound combing popular Western and Senegalese styles. It took him to Paris to record under African vocalist, percussionist and producer, Youssou N'Dour. He's played Womad and is a household name amongst discerning world music enthusiasts, widely recognised for his unique contribution to global music.

The Tama drum (talking drum), is traditionally used to communicate village to village, announcing important events like death or birth. It plays a pounding role in Cheikh Lo's music, and serves as an apt metaphor for the message he carries from place to place as he plays the global circuit.

It's 2010 now, and Africa is on everybody's TV screens. It's 2010 and the man has come to Cape Town, bringing his soukous (African rumba) and reggae infused mbalax music to a collaborative concert, Vibrations. It's 2010, and I am about to ask him (and local jazz fusion diva Simphiwe Dana) about cultural exchange and language without words.

CTMag: Everyone is so preoccupied with soccer, have we given you a good welcome?

Cheikh: A very good welcome.

CTMag: How have your musical influences changed with travelling and playing in different countries?

Cheikh: It doesn't change, it's just colouring. Because music is always present. A universal language. Everyone has their part, whether guitar or violin.

CTMag: What do you most enjoy about African music?

Cheikh: African music is the basis of all music. It's the rhythm! It's ours. If you have a South African, a Zionist, a Senegalese, you can join, you can jam. For example, if I'm in London, I can take a sax player, he can't speak my language, and my English is bad, but we can play. And a Cuban, playing violin. A Japanese playing sax. Or a South African, playing drums. You mix; this is a language universal; it's one. And the best thing is that you communicate NOW.

Simphiwe Dana is also here for the Vibrations showcase.

Simphiwe Dana is a down to earth diva known for her poise and magnetically enigmatic choral jazz fusion, she calls herself a 'complex stereotype' on Facebook, but is far from it. We swapped notes on creativity and the blessing of foreign visitors.

CTMag: What do you take from sharing a stage with musicians playing a variety of styles?

Simphiwe: I've learnt a lot from all my travels, creatively.  I've learnt a lot from the musicians I've played with. Cheikh is AMAZING; he was born to be on stage.  He says, "Simphiwe, loosen up."

CTMag: ...but you're the elegant sophisticate, it's a different vibe.

Simphiwe: "We did the James Brown tribute together, he ended up singing It's A Man's world, but he didn't know the words, so he just made them up. He sang it so beautifully.

CTMag: I imagine the delicacy of his voice must've been something else in that dramatic song.  What could we as South Africans learn from Cheikh Lo's music and his performance?

Simphiwe: He embodies beauty, whether you understand his lyrics or not. He's at ease, a happy go lucky guy; you wonder, has he experienced pain? It doesn't look that way, but he must have.

CTMag: Music is powerful as an entertainment. Can it also be used for education?

Simphiwe: My music is not really for entertainment, maybe the first album a bit, but lyrically it's not saying, let's jive. Mine is more educational. A bit of both, but not, perhaps, in the same artist. There's got to be Freshlyground. There's got to be Simphiwe Dana. There's a thin line between entertainment and art.

CTMag: Sport is causing a lot of people to sing on the train. What makes you sing?

Simphiwe: I sing because I'm euphoric. And when I'm sad. Not just melancholic.

By Jess Henson

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