He can be counted among Africa’s most influential musicians. His voice is a distinctive tenor with an incredible range quite unlike any other in contemporary music. In the last few years, his dalliance with politics, including an attempt at running for President of Senegal has overshadowed his music.
Youssou N’Dour, one of Africa’s best-loved musicians is back with a new album whose message reflects some of the major social and political issues facing Africans. “Africa Reek” is the 34th album by the singer, composer, actor, and entrepreneur and is dedicated to the youth of the continent.
The sound of the album is a product of very diverse influences. N’dour sticks to his signature mbalax beat but with a variety of contemporary influences, from hip hop to R&B, reggae to jazz and even rumba. He maintains a sound that is essentially rooted in Senegalese musical styles with a very global outlook. In a recent interview on CNN’s “Inside Africa” N’Dour said Senegal artists have successfully weaved authentic traditional music and contemporary rhythms to create mbalax. ‘We have rhythm from the percussion and the melody comes the traditional music of Senegal,” says N’dour.
The list of guest appearances on the album includes the Senegalese-American performer Akon, Spotless from Nigeria and Fally Ipupa from the DRC.
“Goree” named after the island that was the largest slave-trade centre during the 15 – 19th century is an acoustic arrangement that allows N’dour exceptional voice to soar. “Be Careful” sang in a mix of his native tongue, Wolof and English is a delightful guitar dance song with a serious message. The lyrics are a warning to young girls to be wary of the temptations of materialism: “If you meet a man you don’t know, be careful, for tomorrow you don’t know.”
“Jeegel Nu” is one of the strongest pieces on the album as N’Dour pleads with the Almighty to forgive his sins.
It is fascinating to hear the combination of the two distinct voices as N’dour and Akon collaborate on “Conquer the World” while “Exodus” is a call for African governments to provide jobs and improve the standard of living in their countries so that their people are not caught up in the illegal migration to Europe.
“Ban La” is a major surprise on the album as Congolese singer Fally Ipupa lends his vocals to the track, which is driven by a sweet soukous groove.
Spotless from Nigeria drops some pidgin lyrics on the very edgy “Dawal” while N’dour wears his credentials as an ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organisation to champion his vision of “Food for all".
Youssou N’Dour was born in 1959 in the slums of Dakar to a family of the traditional West African praise singers, the griots. He started singing at circumcision ceremonies and became a professional singer by the age of 13 earning the name “Le petit prince de Dakar” (the little Prince of Dakar).
As a teenager, he joined the Star Band, the best-known Senegalese band at the time, and stayed in the group for three years. He left to form his own band, the Etoile de Dakar (Star of Dakar) in 1979, which eventually became Super Etoile de Dakar, a rhythmic dance band consisting of as many as 14 singers and musicians.
Through the years, he has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest stars, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel and of course, Neneh Cherry with whom he enjoyed the global hit “ 7 seconds” in 1994.