Cheick Tidiane Seck

Photos: Lucille Reyboz

Cheick-Tidiane Seck, keyboardist, composer, and performer of popular and traditional Malian music, is one of the most prolific, experienced, and perhaps even under-appreciated popular and traditional musicians from the Manding-speaking region of West Africa. He possesses a rich and undeniably interesting history, filled with a diverse range of musical encounters with such artists as Salif Keita, Mory Kante, Fela Kuti, Youssou N'Dour, Hank Jones, Carlos Santana, Joe Zawinul, and a host of others. As keyboardist, composer, bandleader, singer, arranger, modern and traditional musician, Seck presents a telling portrayal of the varied and complex nature of the musician in West Africa, one that often features the mixing of cultures and regions, contemporary and "traditional," and global and local.

Seck's childhood was spent learning the local traditions of his Manding cultural heritage, but like many West African musicians, he looked toward Western popular music for a new, complementary source of inspiration. During the early 1970s, Seck played with the hugely successful Rail Band du Buffet Hotel de la Gare in Bamako, Mali, with Mory Kante and Salif Keita.

During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Seck continued to play with Keita, both in the famed Les Ambassadeurs, but also on various solo projects of Keita's, such as the hugely successful and influential album "Soro. The 1980s and 1990s have witnessed continued success and activity for Seck, both in his extensive worldwide recording and touring, as well as his collaboration with jazz pianist Hank Jones on the respected album "Sarala" in 1995.
From January to March 2000, Seck has been invited by the University of California - Los Angeles to teach "African music meets Jazz".

From the Super Rail Band to MandinGroove

Fifty years. It has been necessary to wait all this time to finally hear him called with his name. And yet,Cheick Amadou Tidiane Seck is not born from the last rain of CD. No, the native of Segou engraved more than one since he entered the music world. It was at the beginning of the Seventies at a time when he was still teaching plastic arts in Bamako. “I was very interested by all the afro-American and world popular music: Louis Armstrong, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye… When I was younger, I directed a group, the Afro Blues Band, which made remake of their songs.” It was the golden age of the great orchestras, and the one who was rocked since his childhood by the Mandingo tradition that his mother sang to him, will integrate the rows of the Super Rail Band by the sides of Mory Kanté and Salif Keita. His so particular fingering already makes wonders on the keyboards, electric and eclectic, inspired at that time by the jazz funk touch of Jimmy Smith. “One of my inspirations. It took me five years to get rid of his style to create mine, which carries the tradition”. It’s the key which will make his difference in style, present since the end of the Seventies (time of his exile in Ivory Coast due to military junta, synonymous of political troubles for the one who was imprisoned several times) on a crowd of records.

Wherever the last twenty-five years carries, one finds the marker’s label of Cheick Amadou Tidiane Seck by the famous Ambassadeurs, Mory Kanté, Thione Seck, Touré Kunda, Salif Keita (“Soro”, “Amen”, “Folon”), Joe Zawinul (“My People”), Graham Haynes (“The Griots Footsteps”, “Transition”) and during the experimental explorations on the side of the London jungle with Mark Gilmore (Drum FM)… The list is long, not exhaustive. And yet, if he is recognized by his pars as much for his arranger qualities, type-setter as his capacities of instrumentist, he remains unknown of the general public. He will have to wait the pianist of jazz Hank Jones to see his personality appear. “This old Man held me out the hand. This wasn’t “nothing”: an elder trusted me by entrusting me an enormous task. And he didn’t hesitated a minute to credit me equal to my work.” It was the splendid “Sarala”, meeting between jazz and Mandingo traditions for which Cheick Amadou Tidiane Seck had to recruit the musicians, and on which he will in fact sign the most sophisticated arrangements. Since, this disc became a classic. The continuation had been awaited for soon ten years.

Meanwhile, he did not remain inactive, carrying out as soon as possible his music on scene, leaving for three months for UCLA in California to teach the topic “Meeting between the western African music and the jazz”, still and always multiplying the crossings (in Paris with the Prime Time of Ornette Coleman, in Essaouira with the Gnaouas, in New York with the pyrotechnist of the scene down-town, and also with his old friends Amadou and Mariam…). Difficult to summarize such a career which goes in all the directions without ever losing the line of its desires and ideas.

Meanwhile, let us return to the object so much awaited for so many years; an album which started to take form in 1999 and was ended in 2003; the time to welcome all the accomplices, recorded between Paris, New York and Los Angeles. The good named “Mandingroove”. A title which has a double signification, body and heart to paraphrase Ellington, who points out that it’s important to make dance the feet, without forgetting to nourish the head. “That is to say all that vibrates and lives in me. This disc defines me exactly; it’s the ground of a whole life of music. That’s why there are so many guests, even if a lot of my friends are not present. It speaks about my faculty to melt into the diversity of the musical currents that I crossed. There is a part of tradition, another of creation. And always the desire to have the two feet in popular music but with more contemporary openings. I try to create my own synthesis of all that I hear, from the Eastern modes to the electronic rhythms. I am like a large tape recorder which collects all that is happening: rhythm, melody, harmony… ” you just have to prick up the ears to understand this ubiquity gift.

A strongly implanted music, but naturally opened to all the winds which oozes the urbanity but remembers the deep furrows of the countryside. A thematic which testifies his identity, high in colours but nourished with universal values. A music of festivals, reconciliation, but also of anger, which does not forget to carry a message in these dubious times. CATS – acronym which marvellously suit to this cat-like who cherishes and tears - has many things to say, between the lines of a rich universe, at the crossing of many worlds. Eclectic, of course. Weird, misunderstanding. Here is the matter of this album, bulky way so far from the current motorways, populated with women voices and engaged words, inhabited by individualities (César Anot, Mao Otayeck, Gilmore Mark, Ali Wagué, Moriba Koïta, Daniel Moreno, Frank Lowe, Mama Keita, Chico Freeman, Craig Harris, Guy Nsangué, Michel Alibo, Mama Kouyaté, Pibo Mark, Lansiné Kouyaté, Moussa Sissokho and much others…) to the service of the his collective, very often transcended by this master, strewn with interludes, of light moments and of more serious instants, just to travel the farther, and with much rhythms. This density only echoes to the complexity of the current world, which is reflected on each one of us. Each title constitutes an essential part of this puzzle, burst and bright, that is the personality of this Toucouleur born in Segou, raised in the enthusiasm of the decolonization, grown on the planet music. All things considered, a society man.
D 12/05/2004