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18 octobre 2005

All Things Youssou

A four-night celebration at Carnegie Hall this month displays the range, depth, and diversity of Africa’s brightest star.

One song composed by Youssou N'Dour, "Wiri Wiri," contains this line:
"If you don't know where you're heading anymore, go back to where you came from."

Now 45, Youssou N'Dour has been a star at home, in Dakar, Senegal, for more than half his life. He has traveled widely during the past two decades, earning acclaim in Europe and the United States. But N'Dour always returns to Dakar. He continues to live there. And his music, however far and wide it has ranged in style and in reach, still speaks first and foremost of home.

This month, Carnegie Hall's Perspectives will showcase the voice and the vision of N'Dour in unprecedented fashion--with four concerts that shed light on how N'Dour's music has drawn from Senegalese tradition and how it has sparked new innovations by younger artists.

N'Dour's father is an auto mechanic, his mother descended from a line of griots, the traditional singers and storytellers who have long served as the culture's oral historians. Ever since N'Dour's rise to musical prominence--first through local religious ceremonies and by hustling gigs outside popular Dakar dance clubs, then on radio amateur hours, and finally, on the world stage--he has developed a strikingly original sound that still communicates the stories of his heritage.

N'Dour's sinewy tenor, his dazzling vocal melismas, and his urgent, engaging lyrics (mostly concerning social responsibility and cultural memory) have become the face of mbalax, the popular Senegalese music that blends centuries-old praise-singing tradition and percussion, Afro-Cuban arrangements, and guitar-based Western pop. The band N'Dour has led since 1979, The Super Étoile, has held sway over Senegalese fans since its formation. They are widely considered to be the most exciting African band to hear in concert--a blend of rhythm and voice that can be appreciated without translation.

Originally, N'Dour had been churning out cassettes on Jololi, his Dakar-specific label, consistently wowing the home crowd. Soon he captured the ear of a much broader audience, in part due to his singing on Peter Gabriel's hit "In Your Eyes." N'Dour's 1990 release, Set, had some folks talking about N'Dour as the "next Bob Marley," a purveyor of the next roots music to sweep across the globe. Others saw him as the good-looking poster boy for a nascent "world music" wave. In fact, he was neither.

"My music is like a spinning ball," N'Dour says. "It can turn in one direction, and then it comes back to its origins." ....

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