Masters of “mbalax” dance rhythms, Fallou Dieng et le DLC are the foremost group to have emerged from Senegal in recent times. Hailed throughout West Africa as “le Roi de l’Ambiance,” Fallou has created some of Dakar’s most thrilling dance music, where cracking sabar drums, driving polyrhythms, funky guitar riffs and staccato horns are the perfect complement to his dynamic and versatile voice.
An engaging performer with a commanding stage presence, Fallou leads a new generation of popular artists who follow in the groundbreaking footsteps of his mentor, the international superstar Youssou N’Dour, who first introduced international audiences to “mbalax dur et pur” (hard and pure mbalax) – the Senegalese pop genre based on traditional sabar drum and dance.
Born at the dawn of Senegal’s independence, Fallou is the son of a marabout (spiritual leader). He was named after the distinguished marabout Serigne Fallou Mbacké, the son of Cheikh Amadou Bamba Mbacké, the legendary Sufi founder and leader of Mouridism. Coming of age in the 1970s, his generation was as influenced by Western styles such as soul, funk, jazz and rock, along with Cuban and Haitian big band music, as it was by Senegalese and other African traditional and popular styles. This unique fusion took root as mbalax (or mbalakh), becoming Senegal’s premier dance music as conceived and performed by such innovators as Etoile de Dakar (starring Youssou N’Dour and El Hadji Faye), Raam Daan (led by Thione Seck) and Super Diamono (featuring Omar Pene).
In the 1990s, Fallou came into his own as a singer, composer, arranger and bandleader with a different angle on mbalax. While many musicians in Senegal and elsewhere were replacing the big-band horn section with keyboards and synthesizers, Fallou added another trumpet to the line-up. His smooth, soaring vocal style, matched by the full, rich sound of his DLC band, ushered in a new movement called “ambiance” – and Fallou was crowned the “King of Ambience”.
Le DLC (named for the famed Dakar Loisir Club), which includes drums, keys, guitar, marimba, horns and backup singers, is driven by a powerful sabar drum orchestra that punctuates the musical phrasing with exhilarating rhythmic declarations.
With lyrics in Wolof, Serer and Toucouleur, reaching out to Senegal’s various ethnicities, Fallou sings about life’s hardships, urges lasting friendships, touts the values of loyalty, trust, truth and integrity, praises his faith, and stresses the importance of fighting for true love in a cultural milieu where arranged marriages are often the norm. Fallou’s steady stream of releases and incendiary live show have kept him in the limelight since his first hit record 15 years ago. After several cassette releases with Senegalese all-star group Lemzo Diamono in the early 1990s, Fallou formed his own group, le DLC. It was their second recording, Barsane (1994), that launched his career. Dubbed “Le Prince de la Medina,” he continued to turn out a string of smash hit albums in Senegal that never saw full international release but enjoyed much critical acclaim and gave rise to his enormous popularity: Beusseum-Bi and Biri Biri Dawal Thiow (both 1996); Weex Bet (1997); Diapason d’Enfer (2 volumes, 1998), and Prestige (2 volumes, 1999). Throughout the ‘90s, Fallou also appeared as a guest on recordings by such notable artists as Thione Seck and Seydina Ndiaye, and on a collaborative project with Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal and other mbalax stars.
In 2000 Fallou released his first CD, Medina (Stern’s Africa) – a compilation of major hit tracks from earlier, locally released cassettes – with international distribution. This was followed byBouko Bayi (Africa Prod.), with more limited distribution, in 2003.
After signing with New York-based New African Production in 2005, Fallou’s international career finally took off. A showcase tour in the U.S. yielded the recording and release of Feuk Dieuf(New African Prod.) in 2006, which was critically acclaimed in both the U.S. and Africa and earned him the coveted Djembe D’Or award in 2007. A hit song from that same CD, “Le Diengou de Fallou”, was nominated for a Kora Award in 2008, under the Best Artist category in the heavily competitive West Africa region.
In 2007, following a sold-out tour promoted mainly to African audiences in the U.S., Fallou made his first appearance outside the Senegalese community, testing his appeal to a broader audience at Joe’s Pub, one of NYC’s premier venues. The positive response generated Fallou’s participation in NYC’s global FEST in early 2008, which then led to a highly successful summer tour, performing at some of the most important festivals in the U.S. and Canada, including (among others): Central Park SummerStage, La Fête de Marquette, Toronto’s Afrofest and Sunfest, and two nights at Montreal’s Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, as well as KCRW’s World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl (where he shared the bill with American pop phenomenon Gnarls Barkley).
With a discography representing nearly 20 years as a major force in Senegal’s mbalax music scene, Fallou’s first truly comprehensive anthology CD, African Classics, was released in 2008 by the broadly distributed South African label Sheer Sound, by arrangement with New African Production.