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15 juin 2008

Soundtrack of my life: Youssou N'Dour

In :

Senegal's superstar tells Caspar Llewellyn Smith how he became a mate of the man others call God

The record that reminds me of Africa

Soro, Salif Keita (1987)

A great, great, great record. For the first time, an African artist managed to bring all the elements, the traditional and the modern, together to create what I call urban African music. Salif is from Mali and a decade older than me. I first knew of his work with Les Ambassadeurs, a famous group from Bamako; he had to struggle because he is an albino and because he comes from a royal family he wasn't meant to be a singer. But with that voice, it really would have been a disaster for the world if he hadn't made it. I'm proud to say we're friends now.

The record that reminds me of dancing

Sexual Healing, Marvin Gaye (1982)

It's about the voice again. I first heard him when I was 14 or 15, when I used to go dancing. There was a club for teenagers in Dakar open from 5pm to 7pm, called the Matinee Disco. Later, Sexual Healing came out and it was a big hit in Senegal, and even though I couldn't understand the lyrics, because at the time I only spoke Wolof and French... well, I didn't have to understand them. Then when he died [Gaye was shot dead by his father in 1984] I found out more about him, and records like What's Going On, which also had a political message.

The first Western record that I loved

So, Peter Gabriel (1986)

After my first-ever show in London, Peter Gabriel came to my dressing room and told me he loved my voice. I knew of Genesis but I wasn't really aware of who he was. One of the technical people said: Do you know who that was? That was God ! So then I listened to his records, and I toured with him, and I became his friend. And of course I sang on In Your Eyes on this album. But thats not why I like it. It was the first Western pop record that really touched me deeply. And Peter, with his Real World label and the Womad festival, has done so much to support music from undeveloped countries.

The record that I played every day

Purple Rain, Prince (1984)

When Michael Jackson was really successful, and then Prince came along, there was a big debate among everyone I knew. And while I respect Michael Jackson, I was on Prince's side. For a couple of years at least, Id watch the film of Purple Rain or listen to the CD every other day. And then I saw him perform in Verona, in Italy, and I learnt a lot from him. I really liked the way he seemed to be enjoying himself on stage and acted with the audience. Unfortunately, in Africa, its not really been possible to stage big shows like that because of the money that's needed.
The record that alerted me to music's power

One Love, Bob Marley (1977)

I had an uncle who worked in a record store in downtown Dakar and one day he came round with a Bob Marley record and I thought it was really fantastic. At first I just liked the music, but then I started to be interested in the content, and the way in which he used the songs to carry a message. I have so much respect for him as one of the first big stars to come from an underdeveloped country. What about the connection between Rastafarianism and Ethiopia? Yes, even here in West Africa, we are asking ourselves the question.

Strange and possibly true
  • 1 Youssou started performing as a teenager, earning the nickname Le Petit Prince de Dakar, and by the age of 23 had his own group, the Super Etoile de Dakar.
  • 2 His duet with Neneh Cherry, 7 Seconds, was a huge global hit in 1994. He sang it again at Live8 when he performed in London, at the Eden Project and in Paris with Dido taking Neneh's part.
  • 3 He has twice been dropped by Western labels.
  • 4 Youssou is a member of a Sufi brotherhood and a follower of early 20th-century Senegalese poet and holy man Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba.
  • 5 Recently he toured America in the company of pianist Moncef Genoud, returning to Senegal to play a concert featuring jazz interpretations of his songs. The trip is documented in the forthcoming film Return to Goree .

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