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27 novembre 2007

Vibrant N'Dour enchants Kimmel

Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour, clad in white pants and shoes and a smart red-and-white striped African shirt, stood beaming at center stage, taking in the applause. He and his potent 10-piece band, Super Etoile de Dakar, had just delivered a satisfying set Tuesday night in their Kimmel Center debut, more than 70 minutes, showing why he is considered one of the world's greatest singers.

On display was his distinct tenor voice, a textural wonder, possessing a thick elastic tonality at bottom and rising up to the trademark keening wails that cascade down in perfectly controlled melisma. (Although he sings mostly in Wolof, Americans may be more familiar with this sound by recalling his soaring voice climaxing the 1986 international hit "In Your Eyes," by Peter Gabriel, an N'Dour enthusiast.)

Whether pinning held notes to the wall or sliding wherever with total control, the trim vocalist never oversang. He also gave the three-quarters-full house a taste of his stamina - after a quick break, N'Dour and company emerged to do another solid hour. Exuding the confidence of someone who began his career at age 12, the 48-year-old N'Dour repeatedly exhorted the compliant crowd to clap and dance, even coming into the aisles, to the particular delight of the West African ex-pats present in traditional garb.

The performance concluded with a lengthy onstage audience dance-off, likely the most erotic patron hip-shaking the Kimmel has seen. N'Dour showcased material from throughout his career, including his just-released Rokku Mi Rokka, an exploration of Malian sounds, and 2004's Grammy-winning Egypt, inspired by his Islamic faith. There were no covers, not even his mid-'80s Dakar-meets-Philly reading of the Spinners' "Rubberband Man" in mbalax - the percussive hybrid African genre he helped create - despite being just across Broad Street from Philadelphia International Records.

Sitting on a monitor, N'Dour began the second encore set with a gorgeous folk ballad. As guitarist Mamadou "Jimi" Mbaye worked up a beautiful solo, shifting from kora-like lines to bluesy inflections, fans came up front to snap photos of each other, the smiling star framed above them.

Posted on Thu, Nov. 22, 2007 By David R. Stampone For The Inquirer

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