Culture & Conversation

Diouf lives and Montreal loves


“Juste pour prouver que j’existe” is the first single off Karim Diouf’s 2013 debut solo album, Adouna. After a three-year hiatus from live performing, Diouf may have felt the need to let Montrealers know he’s still alive and well, and has been busy making pop, rock and reggae-infused traditional music in Wolof, French and English. Well he can rest assured. The packed crowd at Cabaret du Mile End Wednesday night was overjoyed to have Diouf back on the Montreal stage.

Speaking with Rover the day before, Diouf said he had no particular hopes for the show: “ça va sortir comme ça va sortir.” It was the first time he and his 12-member band performed Adouna live, with the ensemble consisting of percussions, keys, horns, guitars, back-up vocals and the West African instrument, the kora, which (for those unfamiliar) looks something like a drum-guitar hybrid and sounds like a harp.

And it went very, very well. They performed all 11 tracks from the album with the grace and ease of a band that had been playing together for years, yet with the excitement and enthusiasm of one newly formed – and realizing it was working better than perhaps any of them had hoped.

Diouf started with “Mother of All,” singing to Africa that “this is what I like in you.”  After the third song, “Juste pour prouver que j’existe,” a smiling Diouf addressed the crowd: “It always bothers me when I do a show and I look out into the audience and everyone is sitting!”

Most in the audience may have been slow to dance, but all were enthusiastic with cheering, clapping, and of course, chair-dancing. Nearly all the songs on Adouna are undeniably dance-able, and Diouf’s charisma and the band’s high energy performance created a celebratory mood. At times, with all band members playing, it felt like the Cabaret Mile End was about to burst into symphonic ecstasy. But even on the more pared-down songs with just Diouf, the percussionist and the guitarist, the music soared.

Adouna was recorded in Québec and in Senegal, a decision he explained was important for both emotional and practical reasons. He and his label, Audiogram, wanted the promotional images and videos to have an authentic feel to project the rich colours of Senegal. Emotionally, the album represents a return to his musical roots, and the expression of his authentic self.  Solo artistic work is important, he shared, because through it, “you can tell your own story.”

Diouf’s own story is an incredible one. He left Dakar for Québec with his brother Élage in 1996. Confident that they would be able to reach audiences with their music, but aware that they would likely need to adapt it, Diouf was surprised at how open Montreal was to world music. The multicultural feel of the city and spirit of collaboration among its musicians was just what he was looking for. And it turned out that les frères Diouf didn’t need to change their style much at all.

After performing at a show in 1997, they were approached by André Fortin. Impressed by the brothers’ talent, charisma and energy, he asked them to join his group, les Colocs. It was the first step in a career that eventually led to a world tour with the Cirque du Soleil and collaborations with Ariane Moffatt, Dubmatique and Roch Voisine.

Given the right moment of inspiration he would collaborate again. When asked more about where he gets his musical and songwriting inspiration, he said that his songs express “tout ce qui est dans ma tête.” And what is on Diouf’s mind seems to be environmental destruction, emotional and material wealth, love and vulnerability. Adouna is a Wolof word that means the world, or life itself.  Diouf has put his heart, head and soul into his album. “C’est comment je vois le monde.”

Wednesday’s audience was grateful to share his worldview. At the end of the set, they cheered, stomped their feet and banged the tables chanting “Karim, Karim!” until Diouf and the band returned to the stage. No one was sitting anymore. People moved the tables to the sides and the floor filled up as the band did an extended encore performance of “Juste pour prouver que j’existe” and “Sénégal natal.” Six or seven people either jumped or were pulled by Diouf up onto the stage and danced to the beat of the pounding drums. A laughing Diouf surveyed the packed dance floor, the tables shoved to the side:live “now that’s what I was talking about!”

Click here to view an official video of Wednesday night’s performance at Cabaret du Mile End, courtesy of the Festival International des Nuits d’Afrique (July 9-21).  For more information and to consult the full programming, visit the festival website.

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