The Voice of Africa
Observer Scene | Friday, November 4, 2005
Youssou N’Dour is a globally revered, Grammy winning artist, known for his wide range of work and styles. The Senegalese artist, known as the “Voice of Africa,” will perform here at Notre Dame’s Leighton Concert Hall this Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. His performance will include selections from his newest and Grammy-winning album “Egypt.”
Youssou N’Dour is one of the most celebrated African artists. Rolling Stone claims, “If any third world performer has a real shot at the sort of universal popularity last enjoyed by Bob Marley, its Youssou, a singer with a voice so extraordinary that the history of Africa seems locked inside it.” His large, international fan-base is the result of his incredibly eclectic music styles. He is strongly rooted in and inspired by his homeland’s rich musical culture. His music contains Senegal’s many different sounds, from the traditional and modern music and Sufi Muslim chants. He is most unique, however, because he draws inspiration from the many other sounds of the world, including different areas of Africa, Cuba, Western hip hop, jazz, soul and pop. The result is one of the most global sound one can hear, described by the Guardian as, “the finest example of the meeting of African and Western music.” His music is so appealing throughout the world because of his unique voice and deeply intelligent music.
N’Dour inherited his musical skills from his mother and joined a popular music group, Super E’toile De Dakar, at nineteen. The group, led by N’Dour, forged mbalax, an upbeat style blending African, Caribbean and pop rhythms. They performed for the first time in Europe in 1984 and in North America the next year.
N’Dour gained greater recognition in the West in the late 1980s, when he collaborated with other famous musicians, such as Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Neneh Cherry, Wyclef Jean and many others. With the international release of “Set” and the famous single “Shaking the Tree,” N’Dour was nominated for a Grammy and signed with Columbia Record’s 40 Acres and Mule Label.
As well as being a prolific and unique artist, N’Dour is a powerful cultural icon and advocate of social issues. He is a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, Ambassador to UNICEF and an elected Ambassador to the International Bureau of Work. In 1985, Youssou organized a concert for the liberation of Nelson Mandela. Three years later, he performed at Mandela’s birthday concert, when he was the President of South Africa. He also toured with the Amnesty International concerts throughout the ’80s and continues to give concerts for children with AIDS. In 1988, N’Dour toured with Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Tracy Chapman on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour. In 2000, he was one of the prominent performers at the Jubilee 2000 concert, consecrated by Pope John Paul II for the relief of Third World debt.
N’Dour will perform selections from “Egypt,” his newest album, which earned him his first Grammy for the “Best Contemporary World Music Album,” This album is a radical change of pace and style for the artist, synthesizing only northern and western African sounds. It is a highly spiritual album, focusing on the religion of Islam, specifically the Sufi practice that dominates Senegal. “Egypt” challenges Western musical preconceptions and presents a different very different worldview. N’Dour explained to the BBC and Al-Jazeera, ” ‘Egypt’ is an album which praises the tolerance of my religion, which has been badly misused by a certain ideology … Our religion has nothing to do with the violence, with terrorism.” This album is a stunning experience and an opportunity that N’Dour has given his Western audience to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the Muslim world.