Aby Ngana Diop – ‘Liital’ LP / CD / Cassette [Awesome Tapes From Africa]

What an incredible record. We haven’t had anything with such sheer excitement and jump-up intensity come across our plates since the funk days of old, and certainly can’t remember a live vocalist that threw-down as hard as this. Frantic drum patterns and hectic and raw vocal workings, recorded in the early ’90s evidently, just make this an absolutely beautiful record that you can’t ignore.

According to bits and pieces strewn across the internet, Aby Ngana Diop was a famous singer in the Dakar region of Senegal in the’80s and ’90s. Her style of singing is known as ‘taasukat’, and frankly there’s nothing we’ve heard like it before. The perfect balance of aggression and flow, African hand drumming and stabs of distortion, Liital has got to be one of the greatest reissues we’ve come across, a proper lost gem.

Awesome Tapes From Africa posted this as a found cassette on their blog back in 2010, and at the time cited “drum n’ bass circa 1993 lurking in the shadows of the most brutal Senegalese sabar drums Dakar has to offer.” A pretty spot-on comparison for the opening track, which somehow also took me back to my first jungle raves and the pure energy and vibes that was coming from it.

Six-tracks in total, weighing in around the five minute mark each, spread across two-sides of decent pressing vinyl. There’s apparently a tape on the way too, but this has got to be played loud and across a decent system on the way that only wax allows.

Grab it quick, you’ll get hooked in. Check out full (unedited) press release below, underneath a cut from the album.

via Awesome Tapes From Africa
Senegalese griot Aby Ngana Diop was famous for her taasu, a form of oral poetry spoken to the rhythmic accompaniment of sabar and tama drums. Taasu is typically created and performed by griot women (a class of poets, storytellers and/or musicians), with a lead taasukat (practitioner of taasu) performing her distinct style of heightened, rhythmically declaimed speech in call-and-response with a small chorus of female vocalists. (Taasu is seen by some to be a predecessor to rap.)

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Diop developed a reputation for being one of the most sought-after taasukats in Dakar, performing with her backup singers, dancers and drummers at parties, weddings and baptisms of the Dakar elite, including government officials and dignitaries. Aby Ngana Diop was undisputedly the best taasukat of her generation.! 

In 1994, the Dakar diva released her one and only studio cassette recording, Liital, to the Senegalese market. Liital was groundbreaking in the history of Senegalese music because it was the first commercial recording to feature a traditional female taasukat performing to the modern accompaniment of mbalax, Senegal’s quintessential pop genre. The combination of Diop and her backup vocalists with their powerful taasu, along with the driving, complex rhythms of the sabar and tama drums, mixed with key elements of mbalax (such as the syncopated, polyphonic marimba sounds played on the Yamaha DX7 keyboard) was something the Senegalese public had never heard before. 

But it wasn’t only because of the fusion of taasu with mbalax; unlike in other mbalax tunes, the musical arrangements on this cassette are instead peculiarly minimalist and almost trance-like, with static harmonies and melodic figures playing more of an atmospheric role. The cassette became a huge hit, propelling Diop to a new level of superstardom. It could be heard blasting from taxis and from loudspeakers at house parties, weddings and baptisms for years to come. Liital bridged the gap between the more traditional taasu and the modern mbalax sound, thus appealing to all generations of the Senegalese public – and they simply couldn’t get enough of it. ! 

When Aby Ngana Diop died unexpectedly on July 4, 1997, the country mourned her passing, but continued to celebrate her music. Other artists such as Cheikh Lô, Thio Mbaye and Lamine Touré released recordings based on some of Diop’s taasu and accompanying drum phrases, paying further tribute to her musical legacy. Although this cassette has caught the attention of some African music aficianados who have stumbled upon it in recent years, it remains largely unknown to the wider world. 

Hopefully this re-release from Awesome Tapes From Africa will change that!