Youssou N’Dour: Back on the Block

Youssou N'Dour
Youssou N'Dour (Courtesy photo)

It really doesn’t matter if Senegalese superstar singer Youssou N’Dour has a new album or not — his enduring popularity owes much to his reputation and longevity.

But it so happens that his latest recordings, “Africa Rekk” (2016) and “Seeni Valeurs,” which was just released on Aug. 1, will surely gain him new fans who don’t know the 59-year-old musician’s roots in Africa with his first band Super Etoile de Dakar, or as a singer in the renowned Star Band.

The artist’s tour, in support of his back-to-back recordings, brings him to a familiar venue: Lisner Auditorium, where he’ll play on Aug. 11 at 8 p.m.

N’Dour’s appeal goes beyond the area’s African immigrant community, although Senegalese residents constitute most of his audiences because N’Dour is one of the rare African musicians who has crossed over into mainstream Western music.

After a brief stint as Minister of Tourism and Culture following a truncated run for president of his native Senegal, N’Dour serves as Special Assistant tasked with promoting his country abroad. He was nominated as Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in October 2000, a position he still holds and uses his music to advocate in support.

As an activist, N’Dour has a long history of fighting world hunger and illegal immigration, a problem plaguing Senegal and other West African countries in which thousands die each year trying to flee to Europe in substandard boats. He also organized an international concert for the release of Nelson Mandela in 1985.

Western audiences know him mainly through his collaborations with Peter Gabriel (on his “So” album) and Paul Simon (on “Graceland”). N’Dour’s distinctive tenor has become familiar to music aficionados on this side of the Atlantic, but not quite to the extent as in his native Senegal where he is among the country’s best known and loved musicians.

Moreover, when Neneh Cherry and N’Dour recorded the iconic “7 Seconds” in 1994, it remained on the charts for nearly half a year and reached the top three across Europe, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Russia and Poland. The haunting melody stayed at #1 for a then-record 16 consecutive weeks on the French Singles Chart. “7 Seconds” was released as a track on N’Dour’s album “The Guide (Wommat)” shortly after the single and was included in 1996 on the Neneh Cherry’s album “Man.”

Since then, N’Dour has been the subject of two documentary films, “Return to Goree,” and “Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love” which chronicled the making of his Grammy-award winning, yet controversial recording, “Egypt.” in 2004. Although the album was set for release in 2001, after 9/11 the singer delayed it, but still drew criticism as being an unsuitable representation of Islamic music, as it crossed over into the pop music genre. In 2006, N’Dour was cast as Olaudah Equiano in the film “Amazing Grace.”

Named “African Artist of the Century,” by England’s iRoots Magazine and included in “TIME 100” Time Magazine’s list of the “hundred men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world,” after 30-plus years of genre-bending, songwriting, recording and promoting Senegal’s mbalax style of music, Youssou N’Dour still sounds as fresh as ever.

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