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Laba Sosseh 1943 - 2007
Master of Salsa Africana

by John Child (

In tribute to the recently deceased Laba Sosseh, John Child offers this discographic profile of the Gambian-born singer and composer who was an early pioneer of the tradition of Africans journeying to New York to record with Latin musicians. "This monument of African music was amongst the first Africans to make an incursion into the international stage," said the Gambian newspaper The Point. Continues here:

Laba Sosseh

b. Laba Badara Sosseh, 12 March 1943, Bathurst, Gambia; d. 21 September 2007, Dakar, Senegal.

The son of a Senegalese father and Gambian mother, Laba was born and raised in Bathurst (renamed Banjul in 1973), the capital of The Gambia, a British colony at the time. Regarded as one of the greatest musical innovators in the Senegambia sub-region, he grew up listening to Cuban dance music of the '40s and '50s. Johnny Pacheco was one of his favourites and he became known for his perfect imitation of the Dominican bandleader's style.

From a family of griots (praise singers), he played the sabarr drum at traditional ceremonies and later joined the Foyer Jazz Band, with whom he began singing popular Latin numbers, and African Jazz dance band. In the early '60s Laba accompanied his father, a civil aviation worker, when he was redeployed to Dakar airport in Senegal. There he joined the Star Band de Dakar, founded in 1960 by Ibra Kassé as the house band for his prestigious Miami nightclub to celebrate Senegal's independence. Sidemen included the Nigerian sax player Dexter Johnson, singer Amara Toure and conga drummer Lynx Tall. Besides the Miami, Laba performed with the band in many clubs in Dakar, Bathurst and throughout the sub-region. In 1964 the Star Band fell out with Kassé and, renaming themselves Super Star de Dakar, relocated to the Etolie nightclub.

While with Super Star, Laba composed his trademark hit "Aminata", which he went on to record a number of times during his career. The 2-CD set Dexter Johnson / Super Star De Dakar: Serie Sangomar 1 (CNR Music, 1998) contains a terrific rendition of the song by Laba with Super Star recorded live by Moussa Diallo in his nightclub Sangomar in Dakar between 1964 to 1974. Laba also features in Starband - Superstar De Dakar - International Band featuring: Dexter Johnson: Serie Sangomar 2 (CNR Music, 1999), performing his hit "La Bicycletta". Both CDs are essential collections of the roots of salsa africana.

He accompanied Super Star to Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, where he took up residence and organised the Super International Band de Dakar, comprising Senegalese and local musicians, at the beginning of the '70s. Singer Pape Fall (b. 3 July 1947, Rufisque, Senegal) was briefly a member of Super International in the early '70s. The rare French vinyl albums El Sonero de Africa (N'Dardisc) and El Sonero de Africa Vol. 2 / El Manisero (Disques M.A.G.) compile Laba's early and mid-'70s recordings. Circa. 1977 he recorded with the Special Liwanza Band, making his debut on Aboudou Lassissi's Ivory Coast-based Sacodis label with Lassissi Presente A Formidable Laba Sosseh - Special Liwanza Band.

Lassissi took Laba to New York to record the classic albums Monguito El Unico Presents Laba Sosseh In USA / Salsa Africana Vol. 1, Monguito El Unico Presents Laba Sosseh In USA / Salsa Africana Vol. II and Lassissi Presents Laba Sosseh / Salsa Africana Vol. 4 (all Sacodis, 1980) directed by Afro-Cuban sonero Monguito "El Unico" (b. Ramón Quian, Manguito, Matanzas Province, Cuba; d. 26 May 2006, New York), who had made his own debut on Sacodis with the bestselling From Cuba To Africa / Monguito El Unico 1980 in 1979. Musicians involved in the sessions included pianist Alfredo Valdés Jr. and violinist Pupi Legarreta. The 2005 Sacodis reissue Salsa Africana - Monguito El Unico And Laba Sosseh In U.S.A. collects two tracks from the original Salsa Africana Vol. 1 and three cuts from Salsa Africana Vol. II. Standout tracks, both originally from Vol. 1, are "Sitiera", featuring solos by Valdés Jr. and tres guitarist José García, and "Mi Corazón" with Monguito chipping-in lead vocals and chat and Mario Rivera (1939-2007) contributing some exciting sax playing.

Laba returned to New York to make two albums for SAR (founded in 1979 by Sergio Bofill, Adriano García and Roberto Torres): Roberto Torres Presenta A Laba Sosseh (1981), produced by Torres and arranged by Alfredo Valdés Jr., and Laba Sosseh (1982). The latter includes "Aminata" and "Diamoule Mawo", reinvented as "Yamulemao" by Colombian superstar Joe Arroyo for his 1987 album Echao Pa'lante on Fuentes. SAR's house musicians sessioned on the albums, including Valdés Jr. on piano, trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, trombonist Leopoldo Pineda, bassist Mariano Solano (d. 23 May 2007, New York City), conguero Alberto Valdés and tres player Charlie Rodríguez.

Laba journeyed to Paris in the early '80s to record Maestro Laba Sosseh con l'Orquesta Aragón: Akoguin Theresa (Disco Stock) with Cuba's Orquesta Aragón. He performed with the Cosmos Band in Benin. In 1998 he sang "Afromanicero" on Cheikh Ibra Fall (Dakar Audio Diffusion, 1998) by El Hadji Faye and Etoile 2000 de Dakar and joined the ranks of Africando for their fourth album Baloba! (Stern's Africa) to sing "Ayo Nene" and reprise "Aminata". In 2001 he celebrated his 40th anniversary in the salsa africana field with El Maestro: 40 Años De Salsa (Mélodie) featuring remakes of earlier hits like "La Bicycletta", "Sitiera" and the inevitable "Aminata". In July 2001 he joined singers Pape Fall, James Gadiaga and Mar Seck to record Los Afro Salseros De Senegal En La Habana (Pam, 2002) at Havana's Egrem Studio. He sings "El Manisero" and revisits "Aminata" yet again.

After a long illness, Laba passed away in a private clinic in Dakar on Thursday September 20, 2007 at around 3:00 am local time. Pape Fall and guitarist Cheikh Tidiane Tall announced his death on RTS, Senegal's state-owned media corporation. He was buried at the Muslim cemetery in Yoff, Dakar, and is reportedly survived by 27 children.

Check out these related pieces in The Descarga Journal Archives:

Profile: Monguito "El Unico"
by John Child, June 17, 2006
In tribute to the recently deceased Monguito "El Unico", we re-post John Child's discographic profile of the distinctive Afro-Cuban sonero, composer, bandleader, producer and mainstay of Aboudou Lassissi's legendary Sacodis label. In addition, Ken Abrams pays respect with his paintings entitled Yo Soy Congo - Homage To Monguito El Unico. Continues

Profile: Alfredo Valdés Jr.
by John Child July 16, 2000
A discographic profile of the much respected pianist, arranger, composer and musical director. Alfredo was the principal arranger for the SAR and Sacodis labels and played piano on many of the sessions. Continues

Interview: Alfredo Valdés Jr: The Son of Buena Vista
by John Child and David Barton July 16, 2000
A Cuban-American resident in the US for the last 44 years, Alfredito can claim a direct line of descent from the heyday of Havana's now internationally famous Buena Vista Social Club into the new millennium. For instance, not only did he witness Arsenio Rodríguez's legendary conjunto perform there when he was a youngster, but also played and recorded with this giant of Cuban music years later.

© and John Child, produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca , He is an editor and journalist for the Latin music website and a contributor to the MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music. He has written liner notes for various albums, including Fania reissues, and prepared compilations for the Union Square and Nascente labels.

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