Song of the Month



Oko Drammeh profiles the formidable Laba Sosseh

Laba Badara Sosseh was a Gambian salsa singer and composer. He was the undisputed master of African Salsa Music and the inventor of Salsa Mbalax, Super Star band, Star band and Africando.

To many, Laba Sosseh was a great singer but overall he was the root of the modern day All-Senegalese music, Mali Pachanga music, the Ivoirian music, Congolese Salsa music, Guinea and African Sals in general. He is a cousin to the legend Paps Touray, and hewas responsible in introduceing Paps Touray (Ex-Super Eagles and Ifangbondi Singer & Composer) to the music scene which became the cradle of Gambian music. The rest was African Jazz, Super Eagles and Ifangbondi.

Laba came from Anglesea Street and Dobson. His grandfather was Mam Tafshir Demba Mbye, the father of Alhagi Makiyu Mbye father of the famous drumming twins Sheikh Mbye. He was a keen drummer, which lead him to become a percussionist at Foyer Band with The Portuguese-Gambian resident band. This was where he started singing backing vocalists, playing Tumba and having few solo shots as lead singer in some popular South American tunes.

A griot, Sosseh was born in Bathurst, British Gambia (now Banjul, The Gambia) on 12 March 1943. His family relocated to Dakar because of his father's work at the airport. This was how Sosseh got involve in Dakar's musical scene, which was at the time strongly tilted towards son, rumba and other Cuban rhythms.


As a founding member of Dakar's Star Band, he shared the limelight during the late 1960s with several future members of Orchestra Baobab. He also performed with Issa Cissokho the Senegalese master saxophonist with the Vedette band.

In 1972, Sosseh cast his lot with a splinter group, Super-star de Dakar that was based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. The band went through several incarnations, including the Super International Band de Dakar featuring singer Pape Fall, and Liwanza. After recording with Liwanza for local producer Aboudou Lassissi in 1977, Lassissi managed for Sosseh to visit New York, where he became involved in the fledging salsa scene, and recorded a series of LPs titled "Salsa Africana", with direction from Cuban Sonero Monguito "El Unico".

Sosseh remained connected to the New York salsa scene for thirty years. He recorded repeatedly with Orquesta Aragón in Paris, and his song "Diamoule Ma-wo" was covered by late Joe Arroyo (as "Yamu-lema", with Arroyo singing in Wolof language by means of a phonetics sheet).

In 1998, Sosseh was tapped by famed Afro-salsa band Africando for their album Baloba! Where he sang two tunes: "Ayo Nene" and his signature tune "Aminata". When Senegal and Cuba normalized relations, Sosseh was part of the "Afro-salseros de Senegal" project, together with Pape Fall, James Gadiaga and Issa Cissokho amongst others. On their only record, Sosseh sings "El Manisero" and (again) "Aminata". Sosseh was also featured in several compilations of Afro-Cuban music, including "Putumayo: Congo to Cuba.

Gambian Laba Sosseh was a significant presence in the African and New York salsa scene. Laba Sosseh, who relocated to Dakar, Senegal as a teenager, spent his entire career outside of the Gambia. Laba Sosseh was a Gambian. Although he is frequently categorized as Senegalese, Laba grew up in Banjul (The Gambia) at the junction of Dobson street and Anglesea street in Half Die at the compound of the Muslim Saint Mam Tafsir Demba Mbye, Mbayen where the Mbye Drumers and Griot family commonly known as Sheikh Mbye came from. Laba listen to Cuban music and Johnny Pacheco, who was one of his stars. He was the first Senegambian musician to win an international music award, and for no other reason than his amazing music.

Inspired by the Cuban dance music of the 1940s and'50s, Gambian-born vocalist Laba Sosseh formed the Star Band du Dakar shortly after Senegal declared its independence in 1960. With Sosseh sharing lead vocals with Papa Seck, the group rose to the upper echelon of African music. Although they reached their peak in the late-'70s, Sosseh and the Star Band du Dakar continue to inspire dancing with their energetic fusion of African and Latin influences more than two decades later.

In 1971 Sosseh had his biggest opportunity of becoming a nationally known artist in Senegal. He signed up with record label Gloegroovers records. He performed with the band for ten years until when he began his solo career leading his band, named Superstar.

Laba Sosseh became very successful by mixing salsa, Wollof Mbalax and other music from the African Diaspora in a unique style that has earned him the prefix of El Maestro by critics and fans. Some of his most famous songs are Aminata and Djoh ma Saloho. This is a beautiful release from Gambian Salsero Laba Sosseh.

This intoxicating son-salsa number is typified by rich, crisp grooves provided by the rhythm section. There is, not one unnecessary note on this, almost sparse, tasty project, it is a salsa distillation. Sosseh's seasoned, almost restrained, voice is calling you. This is an invitation to dance music.

African Music suffered a big blow, when death laid its icy hands on a Gambian-born Music star Laba Sosseh. He passed away in Dakar, Senegal, where his music was well known and the African artist was recognized as one of Africa's greatest artists.

Author: Oko Drammeh

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