Photo courtesy of Sélébéyone.
Sélébéyone Is at the Intersection of Experimental Hip-Hop, Jazz & Wolof
The international 'avant-rap collective' deliver a new album packed with impressive rhymes from Senegal's Gaston Bandimic.
Shrouded in birdsong, Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty opens up “Djibril,” the second track on Sélébéyone’s new album with grave certainty. In French he tells us: "You must close your eyes. Have you closed your eyes? You see points of light. Close them tightly. Each time that you want to see the light, you must close your eyes."
It encapsulates an astounding album in Xaybu: The Unseen that sounds like a spiraling Miles Davis as cosmonaut lost in geometric prisms of Africa. Free jazz in the lost outer dimensions may not be for everyone but this ‘international avant-rap collective’ as they like to call themselves sound less like session musicians polishing off their licks when Senegalese star, Gaston Bandimic, is cutting loose at the heart of it all.
Down wormholes of terror and abject confusion this group’s best moments are when they shoot for spiritually and mysticism through sonic chaos. Saxophonists Steve Lehman of Los Angeles and Maciek Lasserre of Paris ride off the energy that pours out of Bandimic. He delivers in Wolof as if it were for the last time.
That he and Lasserre are both Sufi Muslims, makes the record take on a shape of its own and attempts to reveal the connection they have with the unknown. When I manage to track him down he is in Lyon with his family. A hip-hop star back in Africa, he appears on this transatlantic album that sounds at times like a bad dream in an 80s movie. What is the deal here?
Bandimic describes making music as making new universes, citing “the symbiosis of cultures and civilizations” and how “jazz is not symmetrical, it’s another level — just as the spirit is not palpable. It is abstract”.
“This is an album of trying to find something,” Bandimic explains, “How humans are a universe unto themselves. How we all contain the universe within us. The sun and the moon are in me. To truly understand nature is to understand this”
It is quite clear that there is no shying away from the profound in this work. “With all this connection, a human must live like he is alone on earth. Face to face with another person he is face to face with himself. Doing harm to others is doing harm unto yourself, do you understand?”.
Touring across the world as a live band they have gone from an outfit that sends files to each other online to becoming a unit with purpose. For them: forging something finally bigger than themselves.
“We come from a system that’s handed down from generation to generation as a way of life,” he says, “We made this record to share our way of thinking and transmit the world we want to see”.
Born in Dakar, Bandimic is back and forth between two worlds and many projects. Raising his family in France but constantly returning home. “African society wants to look like Europe. Language, fashion, television…” He trails off contemplating how all culture vanishes one way or another. “The French say their culture is at risk. They don’t like that Arabs eat Halal and speak their own language but the whole world is scared of losing its identity.”
On Xaybu, which means ‘the unseen,’ the notion of clinging on to anything seems unnatural. That in our own worlds, order and ‘normal’ are as abstract as anything else. Bandimic ends our chat asking us to pay heed. “The internet has stolen our humanity. Too much perversion and liberty is abusive,” he warns “Humanity is hidden in darkness right now. Today humans have lost true value and richness of spirit. It’s material wealth that is taught from when we are young, even in our schools. There has to be more than that.”