Youssou N’Dour was possibly the first African artist I had heard who was not from North Africa. Back in the early 90’s, when my Grandfather was the only one who had cable and MTV still played music, I would tune in for my weekly fix every Friday when we would visit him. I remember hearing N’Dour’s rich, velvet voice and the way my skin tingled with every note he sang. It must have been 1994, the year he had released “7 Seconds” with Neneh Cherry. That song and its video were ingrained in my mind for years to come and every now and then, it would politely knock and remind me of its beauty.
Youssou N’Dour is a Senegalese musician born to a Wolof Mother and a Serer Father and raised in a devout Sufi-Muslim environment. His music falls under the mbalax genre, fusing traditional Wolof sounds with Latin and Cuban elements.
N’Dour started his musical journey at a very young age. At 12, in the early 70’s he was performing on a regular basis with The Star Band – a pioneer of the mbalax genre. In the late 70’s he and other members of The Star Band went on to create the group Etoile de Dakar which used the foundations created by The Star band and the mbalax genre but drew on more elements from the Wolof tradition. After a few years, the band went through more name and member changes and was known as Super Etoile de Dakar by the 80’s. Super Etoile de Dakar’s was still very much rooted in the mbalax sound and N’Dour went on to develop, update and Africanise the sound even more and their lyrics would touch upon African political and social issues.
Youssou N’Dour brought Senegalese music to the world through fusing it with western music elements such as jazz, hip-hop, soul and even Cuban/Latin feels. He has collaborated and performed with Sting, Peter Gabriel Axelle Red, Bruce Springsteen, Wyclef Jean, Neneh Cherry, Dido, Akon and many others. He also participated in the Free Mandela Concerts. His album Egypt, which was produced in collaboration with the Egyptian Fathy Salama, released in 2004 inspired by Senegalese Sufism, won them both a Grammy Award in 2005.
N’Dour also dabbled in politics. He had planned to run for presidency in 2012 but was disqualified and backed up Macky Sall instead who went on to become the President of Senegal. N’Dour held several political positions; Minister of Culture and Tourism, Minister of Tourism and Leisure, and later Special Advisor to the President.
Check out a few examples of his music, of course starting with – “7 Seconds” with Neneh Cherry.
“Wiri Wiri” – 2000
“Bay Niasse” – 2004
“Lamb Ji” – 2003