What You Need To Know About Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour

“Mbalax existed before Youssou. It is he who refreshed it, named it, and made an industry out of it.”

– Late Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenyan author and journalist, in an article on N’dour.

Youssou N'dour
Photo: Guardian

Youssou N’Dour wears many hats. He is a Senegalese singer, songwriter, actor, businessman and politician. From April 2012 to September 2013, he was Senegal’s Minister of Tourism.

N’Dour is known for his extraordinary vocal range and for introducing international audiences to Mbalax, the national dance music of  Senegal and The Gambia. The New York Times described his voice as an “arresting tenor, a supple weapon deployed with prophetic authority.”

In addition to this vocal dexterity, he knits politics, religion, history and activism together in his sound. This results in music that serves to enlighten as well as entertain, a revolution all by itself. 

Background

Youssou N’dour.
Young Youssou N’Dour; Photo: Instagram

N’Dour started performing from age 12 and when he turned 15, he joined Super Diamono, a ten-member Senegalese band with whom he toured West Africa in 1975. In 1991, he opened his own recording studio and by 1995, he started his own record label, Jololi. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine described him as “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and most of Africa. With over 30 albums in his discography, Youssou N’dour is a legendary Trend-setter.

Collaborations 

N’dour has collaborated with a host of International Artists including Tracy Chapman, Dido, Wyclef Jean, Neneh Cherry and Paul Simon, among others.

7 seconds, a single performed by Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry, was released in 1994 and made a commercially successful hit, reaching the number one position in several countries. It also won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Song of 1994.

7 Seconds is a subtle warning to people oblivious of the dangers of racism to guard themselves against cruel acts from its instigators. In Cherry’s verse: “A child comes into this world not knowing the colour of his skin, but has the knowledge forced on him by people who see him as a threat.” This is a powerful chronicling of racism and its perpetrators.

Watch 7 Seconds Here:

 

Most recently, N’dour teamed up with Nigeria’s Burna Boy for the first track off his Twice As Tall album, ‘Level Up.’ There are few openers in an album as powerful as this track and Burna Boy acknowledges him as a legend in the way that he represents his music and the beauty of his Senegalese culture. 

Listen to ‘Level Up’ here:

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