Issa Mbaye contacted me via LinkedIn in the summer of 2015 and proposed a musical partnership to write and record songs. We spent the next 6 months writing and recording an album’s worth of original material on which Issa played several instruments – guitars, bass, drums, and African percussion – and sang. I played guitars, bass, percussion and pedal harp, sang some BVs with Issa – and produced the recordings at my place. Everything worked so well that we both realised we had found ideal musical partners and Issa has since recorded drums or percussion on several of my other recording projects!
Issa Mbaye started his musical career in 1984, aged 15, playing percussion in a traditional mbalax band in his home village, Yoff in Senegal. A couple of years later, he switched to playing drum kit, aged 17, and recorded his first album “Niokoloba” with popular mbalax band “Jammi Rew”. His first big break came when he recorded with famous Sénégalese band Baobob Goye Guy and played over in Paris. By 1990, Issa was touring with Dial Mbaye – a famous Sénégalese singer – with whom he recorded the successful album “Ziar” and toured around the Gambia. Between 1990 and 1992, Issa played drum kit, percussion, timbales, and tama talking drum, touring with Super Sabor, an 8-piece band playing modern mbalax music, and recording an album called “Ndargueth” along the way.
Issa’s career went from strength to strength throughout the 90’s, especially after joining the L’Orchestre Nationale du Sénégal in 1993.
In the Traditional Section of L’Orchestre, Issa played sabar (a traditional Wolof drum), djembe, talking drum, traditional bass guitar, as well as being a dancer. The traditional repertoire included music from the largest tribes in Sénégal – Wolof, Diola (Jolah), Sérère, Manding (Bainouk, Balante, Manjack, Mankago), Poular and Peul.
In the Sals’on (Latin) Section, Issa played congas, bongos, timbales and traditional bass guitar. This repertoire included a wide variety of Latin music and provided an opportunity to learn many traditional Cuban rhythms.
In the Classique Section Issa played percussion on repertoire ranging from Sénégalese classical orchestral compositions to European classical music composed by Bach, Mozart and others.
In the Jazz’on Section, Issa played drum kit with repertoire including swing, bebop and fusion standards by artists such as Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Dave Weckl, together with African jazz from Sénégal.
L’Orchestre Nationale also provided accompaniment for many visiting vocalists and instrumentalists. This provided Issa with valuable experience playing drum kit and percussion and singing backing vocals for artists including Salif Keita (Mali), Youssou Ndour (Sénégal), Schella Mouna (Zaire), Nayan Kanbel (Ivory Coast), Pongolove (Zaire) and Manu Dibango (Cameroon).
Throughout his time with L’Orchestre Nationale, Issa still found even more opportunities to play and record with many of the most successful Sénégalese bands and artists. For example, Issa toured in West Africa and Europe with Raam Dan and Thione Seck – really one band with two names. With Raam Dan, Issa played traditional music using African percussion, while with Thione Seck he played modern music using a drum kit.
From 1992 until 1995, Issa also played Bougarabou with traditional group Deco-Africa, learning how to play the many rhythms from Sénégal such as Wolof, Diola, Sérère, Manding, Poular and Peul under the tutelage of the group’s leader, respected Griot musician Bouly Sonko.
Issa worked with L’Orchestre Nationale from 1993 until the middle of 1998 when he moved to London, England to teach music at Sound Arts in Ladbroke Grove for a year. He liked the UK so much he decided to stay, gigging, touring, recording and teaching while re-establishing himself musically in his new country.
© 2017 Mike Collins