Senegalese vocalist Omar Pene was at the height of his powers when, with his group Super Diamono, he arrived at Real World during the 1995 Recording Week and gifted a live session that blew everybody’s hair back. By then Pene had been with Diamono for over two decades, assuming a captaincy in the ‘80s that saw the band jousting for popularity at home with the mighty Youssou N’Dour. Both acts were rooted in mbalax, Senegal’s explosive, syncopated dance music. Both were pivotal to the development of modern music in Senegal. But instead of the customary tama talking drums, Diamono used horns and guitars. They folded in reggae, and wielded jazz chords. In Ousmane Sow they found a keyboardist with a tough electric sound.
Pene’s voice, too, was different: deep, melodious and effortlessly soulful. Heard here, on such self-penned, socially conscious tunes as ‘Giande’, a toe-tapper about courage; oh-so-funky anti-war anthem ‘Xamiene’; ‘Soweto’, a guitar-driven ode to the South African township; and even ‘Diaraf’, a paean to Pene’s favourite Dakar football team, it’s an instrument imbued with genuine emotion. Ultimately, Direct From Dakar is a party album: an aural snapshot of a dance band in the zone and a lead singer in his element, vibing on collective energy and letting the good times flow.