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22 février 2009

Annie Lennox: 'Shining Light'

By Nick Levine, Music Editor, digital spy

Released on Monday, March 2 2009

Member of the British rock aristocracy covers decade-old indie anthem for 'Best Of' comp – sounds pretty heinous, right? Imagine Sting taking on 'Last Nite' or Peter Gabriel having a crack at 'Pumping On Your Stereo'. But against the odds, Annie Lennox's cover of 'Shining Light' – an Ivor Novello winner for Ash back in 2001, lest we forget – is the best thing she's done in years.

This is largely because it's filled with something Lennox's own songs have been missing lately – joy. Here she sounds positively radiant, wrapping her still magnificent voice around Tim Wheeler's tender, vaguely spiritual lyrics. The result, flanked by typically gorgeous Lennox harmonies, is really quite life-affirming. Hmm... maybe Sting should think about that Strokes cover after all?

Face-to-face with Youssou N’Dour

BY MIKE AWOYINFA [ ] Saturday, February 21, 2009

It was a case of the hunter being hunted as the unique, youthful Youssou N’Dour, the world-acclaimed Senegalese superstar singer sensationally turned the table against me. He took my tape recorder from me and started interviewing me—as you can see in this picture taken at our meeting in Lagos.

I had gone to interview him after his headline performance at the Glo CAF Award night, but he couldn’t believe his ears as I sang to him three of his hit songs—songs like ‘Set’ and ‘Mame Bamba.’ He was particularly impressed by my knowledge of the song ‘Without a Smile’ (same)—a sorrowful, melodious song lamenting the harsh, dry Sahelian terrain of his homeland where the trees stood gaunt and leafless, where the cows and goats were all dying under a severe drought. It is a song that features the jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis playing a beautiful, melancholic solo—a melodic masterpiece that haunts every connoisseur of good music.

“Oh, you know the song?” N’Dour asks me as I hum the opening guitar melody. “You like that song?” Of course, I do.

In Nigeria, a country where he is almost an unknown and unsung prophet, N’Dour is moved and mesmerized by the fact that a journalist knows him in and out, and can even sing some of his songs. He got emotional. I could almost see happy tears of appreciation in his eyes encased in a pair of black glasses.

For my effort, Youssou N’Dour rewarded me with a free a cappella of the song which I recorded and which I will treasure for life. When he opens his mouth to sing, Youssou N’Dour transports you straight to celestial realms. I don’t want to use the word orgasmic, because children could be reading this piece. He is blessed with that special, golden voice that God gave to special people like our very own I.K. Dairo, whose house is just a stone’s throw away from my father’s compound in Ijebu-Jesha.

“Branford is a good friend of mine,” Youssou N’Dour tells me as we engage in this long conversation between a musical idol and a devotee. “Every time I go to the U.S., he came to us and played with us. It was Sting who made the connection between us. Branford is now a really big friend of mine. He is one of most talented musicians in the world.” Youssou, surprisingly speaks good English with a French and pseudo-American twist.

I ask the famous singer what the song ‘Without a Smile’ is about. “It’s about the desert, the countryside,” he explains. “People are expecting water and there is a year where there is drought, no water and all the animals are really dying. The song is about someone who follows the animals to see whether they are alive or dead. He didn’t know exactly if the animals are dead, but he asked. And people tried to help him to go to the area where the water is. It is really something traditional, something really local.

“Branford loved the song, because we did a late show in America and we played together. And we had a little time in the dressing room and I said: ‘Listen, Branford, I have a new song.’ And the guitar player started the melody of the song and Branford said: ‘I love it. When are you gonna record this song?’ I said: ‘Next month.’ He said: ‘Send me a tape. I can follow you on the song.’ And I sent him a tape. Three days after, he sent me back the tape with his own solo input. It blew my mind.”

I have not started this column with an introduction because Youssou N’Dour, is a global superstar who needs no introduction anywhere in the world—except, perhaps in Nigeria.

And over here, I am very proud to announce myself as his No.1 fan. So when he came to Nigeria to perform at the Glo CAF Award, I seized the opportunity to get this world exclusive interview which is one of the most fulfilling interviews of my career as a journalist.

For 45 precious minutes, there he sat face-to-face with me, sipping a bottle of Coca-Cola and munching peanuts as I bombarded him with questions I had always sought answers to. He talked about everything—his musical journey, his musical heroes, his humble beginnings, his stardom, his parentage, his love life and his divorce. Of course, we talked about his friend Dr. Mike Adenuga, whose biography we are writing—how they met at the airport in Mauritania and how they became instant friends, after begging Adenuga for a ride in his plane to Dakar.

One thing you can say of Youssou N’Dour: He is a nice, humble, funny, approachable guy without airs of superstardom around him. Talking about superstardom, he is a star who ranks among the greats like Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Sting and Stevie Wonder some of whom he has performed with on the world stage for Amnesty International. What stands Youssou N’Dour out is his unique angelic voice. And the beautiful poignant melodies. From our conversation, I got to know Youssou N’Dour as a newspaper publisher and a radio station owner in Senegal.

On why he went into newspaper publishing, he says: “First, what I think is that I am a young African who has had success, who has some money, who can play everywhere around the world. I have some money and I think about putting the money back into my country, supporting my country and helping to develop the economy, helping to support my fans and the people who helped me to be where I am today. I want to help the young people of my country. I have to create jobs for young people. There are a lot of talents in Senegal and all over Africa who don’t have a job. I have over 220 people working in my newspaper and on my radio. And for me, it is really important.

The other thing is that I try to be someone who helps the country to develop. My mission is to give people the opportunity and the voice to say what they want to say. I am not a politician. I am simply someone who wants to help the country and contribute to the flourishing of the institution of democracy in my country.”

It is still like a dream, but for real, I interviewed, Youssou N’Dour, the first African global superstar. If you don’t believe me, turn to the Great Encounter column inside this paper.