Cheikh Lô

Biography

Chiekh Lo was born to Senegalese parents in the town of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, West Africa. His father ran a jewelry business and the home was always packed with people. Cheikh Lo himself says that this is perhaps the reason why he is so open as a person, something that is reflected in his music.The young Lo developed an interest in music at an early age, playing drums and singing. His father was accepting of this, but his mother disliked it. The other sons in the family had all studied, and his mother was not happy at the thought of Cheikh Lo becoming a musician and playing in all sorts of sleazy clubs. Yet he continued to practice (obviously) and became a member of the Orchestre Volta Jazz, that played Cuban and Congolese hits plus pop versions of traditional songs from Burkina Faso. In 1978 Lo moved to Senegal and performed with several mbalax bands. In 1985 he bought his first guitar and began composing his own songs.

At that time he was working with musicians from the Ivory Coast and France, and they went to Paris to record a disk in 1987. Eventually the band split up but Lo sayed on for two years and worked as a studio musician. He came in contact with, among others, Papa Wemba. In 1990 he recorded his first cassette in Dakar. The music caught on and this marked the beginning of his career.

A year later he made another cassette but didn’t release it because he was displeased with the sound quality. But Cheikh Lo’s music began to take shape: a gentle form of mbalax that uses impulses from reggae and soukous. The opportunity to record an album came in 1995 when Youssou N’Dour expressed a willingness to produce what was the debut album, “Ne La Thiass”. Cheikh Lo’s first performance in Europe was as the warm-up band for Youssou N’Dour.

Cheikh Lo is a Muslim and member of the Baye Fall brotherhood, a part of the larger brotherhood Mouride. The founder of Mouride, Cheikh Amadou Bamba, had as his maxim: “Pray to God as if you should die tomorrow, work as if you would never die.” The Mourides are now responsible for up to 80% of business life of Senegal. Members of the Baye Fall brotherhood sport rasta hair, and Cheikh Lo is often perceived as a Rastafarian, something he is not. The Muslim Baye Fall tradition predates Rasta tradition in Jamaica.