Friday, May 13, 2011


SENEGAL AGAIN !!! After my Nov. 2010 visit to Dakar to record and film our ani-AIDS song “ON DIT MERCi,” I spent three months back in L.A. studying Senegalese mbalax, writing new material over mbalax grooves, and planning my next concert in Senegal. Once again, my extremely patient and generous fan base contributed toward my plane ticket and I headed back to Dakar in April 2011.

This arrival, after feeling my usual giddy sense of joy and wonder at the airport, I did NOT hit the ground running, Instead, I went straight to bed for three days of vomiting, fever, and stomach problems. LOL !! (unusual for me …). However, by the weekend, I got my groove back and started planning rehearsals and The Show with my musical director: bassist Thierno Sarr. I would spend my days doing promotion and we would rehearse for five evenings to prepare for the show.

with my musical director, brilliant musician and bassist THIERNO SARR


I also met with my long term beloved collaborators, GROUPE GOORGOORLU, who would be dancing and singing tassou: BAMBA GUEYE, DJILLY MBAYE, FALLOU NDIAYE


REHEARSALS started with great enthusiasm, all the musicians turning up prepared, on time, and ready to work hard. However, every day we ran into randomly timed and ridiculously long power outages. Although the down side of this was that five rehearsals became twelve, the advantage was that we all got to hang out and connect. Each musician had an interesting life story. And nothing made me happier than when they said they loved playing this music … that it was “authentic AND fresh.”

at rehearsal with THIERNO SARR, and keyboard player IBOU MBAYE


Each night, when everyone’s instruments went “pop” and we all plunged once again into darkness, I was impressed that there was no swearing, no moaning, no complaining … just everyone using their cellphones like flashlights, lighting some candles, going out to bring in coffees …. and then lots and lots funny stories. If the studio was stuffy, we’d end up on the rooftop, where the air was cool and everyone could spread out and chat.



with dancer / tassou artist FALLOU NDIAYE


But when we DID get to rehearse, it was True Heaven. Here I was, official mbalax junkie, 7000 miles from home …. in Mbalax Central with some of the best mbalax musicians in Dakar! What a thrill !!

BLISS at rehearsal


Meanwhile, my daytime promotion went well. After multiple visits to Senegal I am now a familiar face at the TV / radio stations and with the journalists. “Ashley Wayyyyye! Nanga def? Namenala !!” (Ashley dear, how are you keeping? We missed you!). I also still love the chatty, patient, helpful, wheeling & dealing taxi drivers, who consistently make me laugh to and from appointments.

MAYACINE AK DIAL: One coup was when a Senegalese friend who’d I’d know long ago in Los Angeles recognized me after an enormous street party in Guediawaye. Youssou N’Dour’s TV station TFM had filmed the tannebeer (party) for their program “Dakar Ne Dors Pas,” showcasing the dance group AFRICA NDIGUEL and stars like Ndeye Gueye, Gorgui Ndiaye, Ndiole Tall, and Oumou Sow. After Goorgoorlu and I sang and danced a playback of “ON DIT MERCI” for about 4000 people, my friend Pape Diene Ndiaye tracked me down in the crowd.

PAPE DIENE NDIAYE (in stripes) and the crew of MAYACINE AK DIAL


When I knew him in LA, Pape talked constantly about cameras, how he dreamed of working in film / TV, and how he loved Senegal. All this time later and he now directs Senegal’s #1 comedy, MAYACINE AK DIAL. In a country inundated with imported soap operas from India, Spain, France, Portugal, and Brazil, Mayacine ak Dial is culturally very important. Created by a completely Senegalese crew and featuring Senegalese actors, Myancine ak Dial tells very Senegalese stories. Pape invited me to appear in an episode that we created and improvised together about me looking for a hair salon and I laughed the entire day working on it..

The character Dial is played by actor NDEYE SENE … her face is eternally hilarious


MAYACINE AK DIAL: here I am in the season three teaser preview… !

THE BIG SHOW: Our show was April 21. What a magical and powerful night !!! A national TV station, 2STV, came down to film the concert with professional lights, cameras, and sound, the band played brilliantly, numerous excellent dancers came down to join in, Senegalese artists Abou Thioubalo, Ndigueul MC, Aliou Guisee, Yatma Thiam, and Toula guested on the mic, Groupe Goorgoorlu danced and sang tassou like True Masters, and it was a throw down PARTY !

Here is a photo album of the whole trip … viewable via Facebook only

My Dream Band: SAMBA NDOKH MBAYE (tama), IBOU MBAYE (piano) PAPE ABLAYE DIENG (drums), BAYE DIOP (guitar), THIERNO SARR (bass, behind me) and DUPAIN CISSOKH (sabar).




A moment to solo


NDIGUEUL MC (far right) and NGUEWEUL RHYTMES surprised us at the end of SMALL BOATS


all together with GOORGOORLU


Afterwards, I met a load of new friends and Facebook contacts, took photos, and sold CDs. JUST 4 U’s owners raved about the show , saying, “Senegal needs this !!! Your show is exciting and original !! The next time you come, we will give you a prime night and promote it heavily ourselves.” YES!!!

PARIS: The next evening, I flew to Paris for a long weekend on the way home to Los Angeles, staying with brilliant bassist Idy Diallo and his lovely wife Julia. I stopped in to see my friend Jean-Philippe Rykiel for a delicious lunch. (Jean-Philippe produced some of my all time favorite Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour records, has a rich history of collaborating with West African musicians and groups like Xalam, and wrote the original music for the song AMINA on my last CD). Back at his studio he asked to hear my new mbalax demos (bless him) and played along as he listened …

I also took a wonderful workshop with YAMA WADE (aka “Reine de Sabar”).


Yama truly is a Queen … exacting, fierce, creative, a consummate sabar dancer, and yet also warm and very very funny. One student took this video of Yama and I solo-ing. (Visible via Facebook)

After class, more hanging out and horsing around … so much fun!

The rest of my time in Paris, I caught up with friends, enjoyed the delicious spring time air, napped in parks, and wandered in and out of churches to meditate in the Quiet. Although I don’t “belong” to any religion in particular, I love all holy places. Churches, mosques, synagogues, the beach, mountain tops, cliff tops, deserts, under certain trees … these are all equal altars to me. By chance, I ended up in Notre Dame for their dusk Easter Service. It was hot and packed and I found a small stone ledge across from the staggeringly beautiful Rose Window. As the choir burst into ecstatic singing, with all that prayerful energy and a whole bank of candles lit across from me, I just burst into tears and cried through the whole service. So moving and wonderful… !

The last night in Paris, Yama, her friend Roxanne, and I went to Club Titan for their Soiree Senegalaise and danced all night. Got home at 6am before another friend Rougui So drove me out to the airport for my morning flight. Slept all the way home on the plane … in fact, slept the whole next week. But now that the laundry is done and the bills have been paid, I am back at the desk planning the Next Chapter of this Musical Journey. I am very very blessed.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

ON DIT MERCI song / video - Dakar, Senegal Nov. 2010

When Souleymane “Jules” Kane (manager for Cheikh Lô and Daara J) invited me to perform in Dakar for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1st, 2010 and requested that I write a song for the event, I took it as a challenge. After hearing tragic ineffectual songs for years about “children crying” and “people dying” written about such subjects, was there a way a song that somehow could be positive, inspiring, even funny, in relation to such a terrible disease?

The result was “ON DIT MERCI” The song describes that moment during lovemaking when a couple pauses (the music pauses, too) to reach for a condom … and how that decision is a celebration of good health, safety, love, and protection for oneself and one’s children.


Since it would be written in Wolof and French, I collaborated via Skype and email on the lyric translations with my dear friends Badou Boussou for the Wolof (lives in Canada) and Carmen Odimba for the French (she lives in Germany). Plus, Fallou Ndiaye from Groupe Goorgoorlu, enthusiastically sang me a whole verse he’d created in Wolof at top volume from a street in Dakar … complete with buses rolling by and me shouting, “Encore? Encore! C’est difficile te comprendre avec tout le bruit (noise).”

Fallou Ndiaye and I on the way to a performance in Dakar, SenegalPhotobucket

When I realized that my schedule would not allow me to perform for the festival, I went to Dakar early .. in November. I asked Jimi Mbaye’s engineer, Moussa Niang, if Jimi’s studio was free while he was touring with Youssou N’Dour? “Sure!” said Moussa, “come over!” At Keur Dogo (Jimi’s house), Moussa got on the phone. Most of my own Dakar-based musicians were away, touring with Cheikh Lô, so Moussa called some other A-list musicians. I wanted to hug him as I heard him explain in Wolof, “Yes, she is toubab (a foreigner) but she doesn’t have a ton of money. It’s just a quick session to record one song.”

Bless them, they all said, “Waaw Waaw!” and the next night we gathered at 6pm. Jeannot Mendy (guitar) plays with Viviane and is super accomplished and gifted. He nearly came to Berklee School of Music in the States, but circumstances kept him in Dakar. Ibou Mbaye (keyboards) was a total master of mbalax piano playing. Really gentle spirit, twinned with furious flying fingers. Abdourakhman Fall (bass) performs with Jeannot … another super gifted musician. The ever firey Aliou Seck (sabar) used to play with my idol, Ndongo Lo, and performed with me last April in Dakar. Pape Ablaye Dieng (drums) is a master of taste and space and also performed with me last April. Yatma Thiam (tama) is Assan Thiam’s son, a young superstar over there, and gave the session 150% … super creative and hilarious. And finally, Fallou Ndiaye, Bamba Gueye, and Djilly Mbaye of Groupe Goorgoorlu arrived later to contribute their utterly brilliant and hilarious spoken tassou to the song.

Abdourakhman Fall (bass), Moussa Niang (realisateur), Aliou Seck (sabar) Ibou Mbaye (piano)Photobucket

Jeannot Mendy (guitar) Ibou Mbaye (piano) Yours Truly and Aliou Seck (sabar)Photobucket

What a magical night! The musicians learned the music and made it their own at lightening speed, all in an atmosphere of so much laughter and connection. Everyone knew everyone, so it felt like a reunion. They praised the song and LOVED the “pause” in the music, even while struggling to make it work with their rolling mbalax. Moussa was a master of keeping things running smoothly and quickly. No click track. Just a live take, a few overdubs, some hilarious moments while Yatma recorded his tama, and then me on the floor laughing when Goorgoorlu recorded their tassou. Lots of café touba and sandwiches, Jimi’s daughter Maman and guitarist son, Elage, hanging out, and, of course, constant dancing and clowning around. PARADISE!!!! I recorded the vocals in about 20 minutes and we called it a night.

Aliou Seck on fire in Jimi Mbaye's studioPhotobucket

Goorgoorlu giving me a heart attack laughingPhotobucket

Goorgoorlu teasing / singing songs about tama star Yatma ThiamPhotobucket

Rehearsing in advance. I recorded the vocals in about 20 minutes!Photobucket

Endless clowning around and dancingPhotobucket

with Yatma ThiamPhotobucket

The next day, Moussa and I mixed the track in about 2 hours … fresh, funny, and lively. Everyone loved it and insisted it could be a huge hit in Senegal, so Goorgoorlu called one of Senegal’s top video directors and said, “Hey Papis! (Niang) We have just recorded this excellent new single … would you give us a good price to film it?” Taxi to Papis’ office … more laughter and good vibes. Papis loved the song and said, “Yeah! Let’s do it!”

Video Director Extraordinaire Papis NiangPhotobucket

On break from rehearsalsPhotobucket

All ready to shoot for the green screen!Photobucket

The next two days, Goorgoorlu choreographed the song and we rehearsed in my living room. Again, Total Heaven. Not only are they constantly funny, but their dance combinations are so creative and tasty. Yes! I borrowed some clothes from friends and we met Papis at his studio the next day. Lights / changing / preparations / cameras set up / everyone ready and drinking coffee / first run-through and then …. The power went out. AAAAHHH!

Waiting for the power to come back on .. Fallou Ndiaye and Djilly MbayePhotobucket

with the delightful, super talented Bamba GueyePhotobucket

In recent visits, I notice Dakar’s power outages here and there, but now, they are really crippling…. not just 20 minutes or an hour now and then, but 4 / 6 / 24 hours nearly every day, with everyone lighting candles and stores losing masses of merchandise. Really tough. The Senegalese have admirable patience, but it has become a national complaint.

The next day, power back on, and we rocked it. Take after take after take .. all simple and direct in front of the green screen. When I wasn’t performing, I was laughing at Goorgoorlu. Later, we returned to my apartment to film the last segment, Papis and his crew edited the video the next day, and we were done!!!

As always, the Goorgoorlu and I spent most night in the clubs dancing and performing. Our wonderful playback at Ndeye Gueye’s packed new soiree at Ravin in Pikine had the audience screaming, plus we did some radio promotion and the usual round robin of baptisms, marriage celebrations, and birthdays. The minute Goorgoorlu arrive anywhere, it’s an instant party.

with Senegal's Dance Diva Star Ndeye GueyePhotobucket

Also, I had the honor of meeting up with legendary American music journalist, Robert Christgau. A mutual friend had given him my number, saying that I could take him to some concerts while he was visiting Dakar, so I took him to see Goyane singer Khady Mboup at Ravin, Yoro Ndiaye at JUST 4 U, and helped coordinate an interview with Orchestra Baobab. Bob was a soldier. When I told him Khady’s show started at 2:30am, he unflinchingly observed, “OK. I’ll take a disco nap!” It felt so good to see him with his pad of paper taking enthusiastic notes at 3am … a great opportunity for Senegalese culture to find first class exposure in America.

Meeting with Orchestra BaobabPhotobucket

With Legendary Music Journalist Robert ChristgauPhotobucket

Since returning to Los Angeles, ON DIT MERCI has been in heavy rotation on Senegalese TV, thanks to Papis and Goorgoorlu’s efforts. I have received scores of emails saying “I just saw your new clip!!” from over there. Plus, online it’s been doing well on YouTube and emailed to say they loved it so much, they were putting it on their front page. In three days, it’s been seen by over 11,000 people. How awesome is that?

Life is good and I am very very very blessed. I wonder what’s next?


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Canada / Dakar / JUST 4 U concert - April 2010

When a group of Senegalese ladies in Ottawa, Canada, invited me to dance for their 50th Anniversary Celebration of Senegal’s Independence, I was honored! They sent me a ticket and I was on my way! I spent two days at singer / percussionist Elage Mbaye’s house with musicians dropping by and a general air of celebration.Photobucket

The party itself was wonderful: everyone dressed up in their royal best, guest drummers in from Montreal, and lots of good food and music. Since Ottawa is Canada’s capital city, many of the attendees worked in the government and many never EVER danced sabar. One beautifully coiffed woman at the end told me that watching me, a toubab, dance sabar made her proud her country’s culture and encouraged her reconnect with it herself. Everyone was so friendly and festive. Senegal dieum kanam!

With drummers ELAGE DIOUF, SADIO CISSOKHO, and TOBIEPhotobucket

with producer / keyboard player ABDOU SYPhotobucket

On Monday morning, Abdou and Elage drove me to the airport to fly to ….Photobucket

DAKAR!!! Yes, Dakar again! Since Ottawa’s Senegalese community had covered the cost of my flight to the east coast, they’d paid for me to get halfway to Senegal. Anything to get me back there! Once again, the minute I saw Dakar beneath me at dawn, my whole spirit lit up. The moist warmth and smell of the air outside the plane, the bus at the bottom of the stairs waiting to ferry us a hilarious 100 feet to the terminal, the customs officers with their glasses on the end of their noses, the Senegalese looking so happy to be home, the sound of people saying “Salam Aleikoum,” the winding carousel and big x-ray machine in baggage claim, and then … stepping out to find friends and take a taxi home. Heaven!

Like my last visit, I stayed in Camberène 2. Clean room, foam pad, fan, clothes folded in piles on the floor, and a tiny all-in-one bathroom. Perfect! The very next day, I started off on my usual promo routine! With Alyune DIop in charge, I first got my second video clip to all four TV stations. It felt really good to have reunions with TV people I had met last November. They were all very happy with the video and got it into rotation right away.


When I stopped by WALF TV, I got very very lucky. Modou Dieng (in charge of videos) wanted to show me all the new developments at the station, so we went floor to floor, in and out of this and that room, meeting and greeting everyone. When we arrived at a big room I recognized from my last visit (when Goorgoorlu was interviewed along with other tassou artists and we all danced up a storm for the cameras), there were three people sitting inside. A well-known radio / TV personality named Maty Dieng comically said “Yow!” (You!), you should get down on your hands and knees and thank me. Every time your video has played on WALF TV, it’s because I have been in there saying, ‘Play that video again! I love this woman!’” We had a hilarious conversation until she waved her hand and said, “Hey Chiekh Tidiane! Get Ashley on your ATAYA program on Friday night.” Just like that!

On Wednesday we all turned up for the taping. Comedian San Ndiogo and a woman named Ndeye was interviewing reggae artist Sun Sooley, a polician, and myself as a surprise guest. While Sun and the politician handled San Ndiogo’s constant barbs and humor with grace and intelligence, I was hilariously lost. San Ndiogo pounded me with rapid-fire comic questions in Wolof and I am laughing out loud right now to remember my look of total confusion. When I could squeeze it in, I spoke about my music / purpose / passion for mbalax, too.

Finally, I got a chance to perform a playback version of Small Boats, with Fallou and Bamba dancing on either side. The whole studio sang along with the Mame Cheikh Ibra Fall ending. So beautiful!

dressed in taille basse with BAMBA GUEYE, SAN NDIOGO, and FALLOU NDIAYEPhotobucket

with reggae artist SUN SOOLEYPhotobucket

looking fierce with my lady friends: MAME DOER, SOXNA, and KINE NDIAYEPhotobucket


ATAYA showed on Friday night at 10pm, repeated on Saturday afternoon and, I soon realized, was a far bigger deal than I had imagined. EVERYONE had watched it! It was total prime time. For the rest of my stay, kids ran up to me in the streets, women stopped me to say they loved my song / voice, people leaned out of bus windows and sang, “LA ILA LAAA…” to me, security guards said, “Jerejef Ash-LAY” when I left the bank, and so many taxi drivers recognized me, I gave them all copies of my CD!

A typical moment when some girls recognized us and insisted on having photos taken…Photobucket

Next was radio. Alyune set me up each day with interviews with Dakar's DJs, who were all charming and welcoming. . . a typical radio station, Dakar FM with DJ JADREPhotobucket

the booth where I was interviewed ... vive le mbalax!!!Photobucket

with DJ JADREPhotobucket

While bouncing around town, I also saw good friends such as wonderful acoustic artist YORO NDIAYEPhotobucket

Also painter / sculptor / photographer Maaike Wiarda and the very talented Ndigueul MC


Most evenings, I rehearsed in Parcelles with a fully Senegalese band, organized by brilliant bassist, Thierno Sarr. This was surely the highlight of my trip. My band was so talented, professional, punctual, creative, easy-going, ego-free, hard working, and crazy hot playing my mbalax tunes, I thought I would pass out with happiness. Even when the electricity would cut out, it didn’t matter … just great vibes in the room, everyone positive and focused. The last three days, my dear Goorgoolu dancer friends, Fallou Ndiaye and Bamba Gueye, came along and made me laugh so hard with their choreography, everyone made me face the wall so I could sing without falling apart. Here they all are:

bassist extraordinaire THIERNO SARRPhotobucket

ever hilarious and gifted guitarist BAYE DIOPPhotobucket

I nearly fainted when they told me that ALIOU SECK played for Ndongo Lo. What an honor!Photobucket

the detail master of the keyboard – ARONA BARRYPhotobucket

kind, patient, and fierce on drums at the back: PAPE ABDOULAYE DIENGPhotobucket

trying not to laugh with FALLOU NDIAYE and BAMBA GUEYE dancing before me!Photobucket



On March 23rd, we performed at JUST 4 U, opening for Senegal’s amazing Carlou D. What a wonderful night! Ever since I visited JUST 4 U in 2008, I had dreamed of performing there and here I was playing my OWN music with some of Dakar’s best musicians and dancers! We started off calmly and built built built to a firey mbalax finish, much to the surprise of the JUST 4 U regulars. Here was our last number with some tasty dancing at the end ...

TRY TO HIDE – Live at JUST 4 U

What a wonderful band!ashley maher just 4 U senegal

Paradis!ashley maher

with The Divine CARLOU D!Photobucket

(of course, Bamba and Fallou already knew Carlou D)Photobucket

Two days later, I was on a plane back to Los Angeles, already wondering how to return and carry on working / collaborating / developing artistically in Dakar. The more time I spend there, the more clear my purpose becomes. So much to do .... now I just need to find the support to get me back!