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02 août 2005

A country field with a view across the planet

Financial Times
Arts & Weekend / Art, music & theatre

By David Honigmann

... Youssou N'Dour and his band, Super Etoile de Dakar, exerted a magnetic attraction. N'Dour opened with a song in praise of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, and also slipped in a mention of Womad's chieftains Peter Gabriel and Thomas Brooman. "Salaam aleikum," he chanted. "Peace to all, not just to Muslims."

The early ominous synthesiser chords were superseded by a storming set from Super Etoile, whose combination of stuttering firecracker drum attack and curiously old-fashioned guitar breaks sets the backdrop for N'Dour's commanding tenor, rising above the clatter in benediction. The band were as lock-tight as might be expected, given that in Senegal they play multi-hour sets most nights.

Purists sniff at "7 Seconds", N'Dour's chart hit duet with Neneh Cherry. But when he sang it here, his voice fracturing into seven syllables on the "million" of "a million voices", the thousands of voices joining in the chorus must have echoed off the Cotswolds. Djanka Djibe, singing the female part, replaced Cherry's boho sass with nu-soul diva hauteur: as she spiralled baroquely upwards on the last verse, even N'Dour watched in admiration.

N'Dour's newest west African rivals, the blind couple Amadou and Mariam, continued their irresistible rise with a set as bouncy as two toddlers jumping on a mattress. Their quieter blues numbers were swamped by enthusiastic orchestration, but "Coulibaly" and "Ko Be Na Touma Do" shone through....

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