It's funny how drummers often end up at the front: Peter Gabriel, Maurice White, Bobby Gillespie, Paul Whitehouse, Andrew Neil, Sheila E. It is something to do with the exuberance and communicative power of percussion instruments. And when the drummer is also a great singer, you can't fail. Cheikh Lo, who once worked non-stop as a session percussionist on the Paris studio scene, has moved from backline to World Music superstar while maintaining his subtle charm. His light, flexible voice floats freely over his band's hard-edged eclecticism, but the beat is never in doubt.
The band consists of a rhythm section of drums, congas, six-string bass guitar (Malik), guitar, keyboards and Samba Diaye on tama (talking drum). Diaye is an amazing, tireless performer: there is a constant rapport between his rippling, loquacious tama part and Lo's vocals and timbales. Whatever feel they play - Latin, reggae, Afrobeat, funk - when Lo and Diaye get going they recast the song and groove in their own style.
Like all musicians, the rhythm section want to play things that make their instruments sound good, and they plunder the treasure trove of great black music, while guitarist Faye Papa Boubacar wails like a Western axe hero. The gentler acoustic details of Lo's debut Ne La Thiass have been traded for a harder, urban sound, but Diaye's tama prevents things from rocking out of focus. It would have worked better in a less over-crowded place - a sold-out club date like this reminds you that London lacks an intimate, medium-sized venue for such gigs.
Pulsing numbers such as Doxandeme, Jeunesse Senegal and Bambay Gueej kept everyone jiggling in the few centimetres to spare around their toes, and the irresistible M'Beddemi, their "Cuban" number, claimed everyone's dancing feet and hips. Lo's beautiful singing across the supple accompaniment of this number was a treat, his ever-changing dialogue with Diaye's tama like a little slice of heaven. For the last number, a couple of dancers jumped on stage, relishing the extra space to shake their backsides. Cheikh Lo just got on with the show, modest but confident, the musician and bandleader par excellence.