Throughout his career, Daby Touré has embodied a multicultural approach to music. He was born in Mauritania, raised in Senegal and has lived in Paris since 1989. He sings in Fulani, Soninke, Wolof, French and English, and names pop icons including Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder as his musical inspirations. The Paris-based group Touré Kunda was led by Daby’s uncles and his father at one point, which makes Daby an heir to a world music family dynasty. Daby entered the music scene in the late ’90s, when he formed the group Touré Touré with his cousin Omar. In 2004, Peter Gabriel’s Real World label released his first solo album, Diam, to great critical acclaim. He took his place alongside iconic African musicians in the European diaspora including Lokua Kanza and Richard Bona, who were pushing the boundaries of African world music (made by Africans but geared primarily towards European and American audiences), with elements of jazz, fusion and acoustic singer-songwriter folk.
The music on Touré’s fifth release, Amonafi, out Sept. 18 on Cumbancha, reflects the musical aesthetics of the Parisian world music scene he came up in. The songs on this record are acoustic guitar-centric, delicate, light, poppy, easy to listen to, and ultimately tame and unmemorable, in the opinion of this reviewer. This is not “pop music” in the sense of “widely popular,” either in Europe, the U.S. or West Africa, but rather in the sense that every song is vocal-led and under four minutes long. The production is too polished and clean for my taste; there is hardly an adventurous or surprising note anywhere on this album. Daby overdubs his own close backing vocals on most tracks, which creates an almost too-perfect, intimate closeness on the harmonies.
Certain songs do stand out from the rest on this album. One is “Oma,” the lead single, a catchy upbeat ska number with tight drum set and falsetto vocals, about the struggles of migrants in Paris.
Another tune, “Khone (Enemy),” is stark and striking: Daby layers a cappella vocals, singing tight phrases in Wolof with occasional light hand claps, creating a sparse gem. According to the liner notes, it was co-written by Touré’s father Hamidou, along with Ablaye Waiga. He explains, “It is an excerpt from an opera, composed for the 1969 Pan-African Festival in Algiers. It was originally a long treatise about black power. I rearranged it into an a cappella version in which I sing that we must be aware of our history, and pass the torch to future generations. Today we are all responsible for the past.”
After that, it’s back to the sweet guitars and vocals. To be clear, I don’t mean to condemn Daby Touré for making the music that makes him tick. I am simply saying this record will probably not surprise you, will not make you quit your day job, will probably not ruffle a feather on your wings, but it might give you flashbacks to your favorite aisle in Tower Records, circa 2005.