Time Travel to 1970s Dakar With the Afro-Caribbean ‘Senegal 70’ Compilation

The triangular trade that linked Europe, West Africa, and the Americas didn’t stop with the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. The percussive rhythms brought over in slave ships to ports in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico made their way back to the shores of Africa. As Cuban music enjoyed its heyday in the 1940s, touring Cuban bands toured West Africa, finding their way to sweaty nightclubs in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Later, in the 1970s, stars like James Brown and Celia Cruz toured the coast, breathing new life into a culture born of English and French colonialism.

Senegal 70, a compilation jointly released by Analog Africa and Teranga Beat, captures the swirling sound clashes of this colonial hub from more than four decades ago. Early progenitors Amara Touré and Le Star Band de Dakar absorbed Cuban genres like Son Montuno and Patchanga, lacing it with electric guitars and African sounds like Mbalax and Mandinka. On Senegal 70, they’re featured with the laid-back “El Carretero,” with a distinctively Cuban call-and-response chorus—and Wolof lyrics. By the 70s, though, they had started to give way to nascent acts like Orchestre Bawobab, whose “Ma Penda” aches with its singer’s pained, emotive wail.

The compilation is peppered with organs, horns, guitars, and all manner of drums. Its sound is equatorial, distinctly tropical. There are faded reggae rhythms and more psychedelic vibes, with a post-colonial legacy reflected in Afro-Caribbean sounds and lyrics in English (“Kokoriko”), Spanish (“Thiely,” “Viva Marvillas”), and Wolof (“El Carretero”).

The 12-track release is a joint effort between two relatively new but nonetheless important reissue labels: the Frankfurt, Germany-based Analog Africa and the Dakar-based Teranga Beat. Analog Africa was founded in 2005, and releasing “raw, funky and psychedelic tropical sounds from Africa and Latin America from the ’60s and ’70s,” according to its site. In June of 2015, they released a compilation of Amara Touré’s work from 1973-1980. Teranga Beat is the brainchild of Greek music aficionado Adamantios Kafetzis, a frequent tourist to Senegal who founded an event in Athens of the same name that celebrates African food, music, and culture. He’s spent the better part of the last decade tracking down old Senegalese tunes, and says on his site that he “happened upon a wealth of un-edited reel tapes containing material from the ’60s up until the mid ’80s.” He set up shop in Dakar, and began releasing the 300+ tracks he found. He’s already released work from Senegal 70 act Dieul Dieul de Thiés.

You can thank the state of vinyl manufacturing for the fact that the 2xLP version of Senegal 70 is still on pre-order, but you can stream it on Spotify, and purchase the CD and digital download versions on Bandcamp. The vinyl version has a different tracklist; Instead of “Ariyo” by Dieul Dieul de Thiés, you get “Ndiourel” by Gestü de Dakar. The vinyl comes with a 12-page booklet; the CD, a smaller, 44-page version. It’s a perfect soundtrack to the doldrums of winter, a transportive experience that bounces effortlessly between Havana and Dakar. We feel warmer already.