Youssou N'Dour (French pronunciation: ; born 1 October 1959 in Dakar) is a Senegalese singer, percussionist and occasional actor. In 2004, Rolling Stone described him as, in Senegal and much of Africa, "perhaps the most famous singer alive." He helped develop a style of popular music in Senegal, known by its Wolof language name of mbalax.
Mbalax is a blend of the country's traditional griot percussion and praise-singing with the Afro-Cuban and Haitian kompa arrangements and flavors which made the return trip from the Caribbean to West Africa in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s and have flourished in West Africa ever since. Beginning in the mid-1970s the resulting mix was modernized with a gloss of more complex indigenous Senegalese dance rhythms, roomy and melodic guitar and saxophone solos, chattering talking-drum soliloquies and, on occasion, Sufi-inspired Muslim religious chant. This created a new music which was at turns nostalgic, restrained and stately, or celebratory, explosively syncopated and funky. Younger Senegalese musicians steeped in Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, James Brown, and the whole range of American jazz, soul, and rock music, which Senegal's cosmopolitan capital, Dakar, had enthusiastically absorbed, were rediscovering their heritage and seeking out traditional performers, particularly singers and talking drummers, to join their bands. (The griots?musicians, praise-singers and storyteller-historians?comprise a distinct hereditary caste in Wolof society and throughout West Africa.) As it emerged from this period of fruitful musical turbulence, mbalax would eventually find in Youssou N'Dour the performer who has arguably had more to do with its shaping than any other individual.
Life and work
Youssou N'Dour in 2004
He began performing at the age of 12. Within a couple of years he was performing regularly with the Star Band, Dakar's most popular group in the early 1970s. Several members of the Star Band joined Orchestre Baobab about that time.
Although N?Dour has connections to the traditional griot caste on his mother?s side, he wasn?t raised in that tradition, learning it instead from his siblings. His parents encouraged him to look at things in a more modern manner, leaving him open to two cultures, with the result that he refers to himself as a modern griot.
In 1979, he formed his own ensemble, the Etoile de Dakar. His early work with Etoile de Dakar was in the typical Latin style popular all over Africa during that time, but in the 1980s he developed a unique sound when he started his current group, Super Etoile de Dakar featuring Jimi Mbaye on guitar, bassist Habib Faye, and Tama (talking drum) player Assane Thiam.
Youssou N'Dour is one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. A renowned singer, songwriter, and composer, Youssou's mix of traditional Senegalese mbalax with eclectic influences ranging from Cuban samba to hip hop, jazz, and soul has won him an international fan base of millions. In the West, Youssou has collaborated with musicians Peter Gabriel, Axelle Red, Sting, Alan Stivell, Bran Van 3000, Neneh Cherry, Wyclef Jean, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Branford Marsalis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Dido and others. In Senegal, Youssou is a powerful cultural icon actively involved in social issues.
He is endowed with remarkable range and poise, a composer, bandleader, and producer with a prodigious musical intelligence. The New York Times described his voice as an "arresting tenor, a supple weapon deployed with prophetic authority". N'Dour absorbs the entire Senegalese musical spectrum in his work, often filtering this through the lens of genre-defying rock or pop music from outside Senegalese culture.
In July 1993, an African opera composed by N'Dour premiered at the Op?ra Garnier for the Paris quartier d'?t? festival. He wrote and performed the official anthem of the 1998 FIFA World Cup with Axelle Red "La Cour des Grands".Youssou N'Dour was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 16 October 2000.
N'Dour's major asset is that he is strongly grounded in his culture. Even if he chooses to explore elsewhere, his roots are well established. Some have gone so far as describing him as the African Artist of the Century (Folk Roots magazine). He has toured internationally for almost 30 years. He won his first American Grammy Award (best contemporary world music album) for his CD Egypt in 2005.
By 1991 he had opened his own recording studio, Xippi, and by 1995 his own record label, Jololi. He is also proprietor of one of Senegal's biggest circulation newspapers L'Observateur and the radio station RFM (Radio Future Medias).
N'Dour has associated himself with several social and political issues. In 1985, he organized a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela. He was a featured performer in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour collaborating with Lou Reed to contribute a version of the Peter Gabriel song Biko which was produced by Richard James Burgess and featured on the Amnesty International benefit album The Secret Policeman's Third Ball. He has also worked with the United Nations and UNICEF and he started Project Joko to open internet caf?s in Africa and to connect Senegalese communities around the world. He performed at three of the Live 8 concerts (in Live 8 concert, London, Live 8 concert, Paris and at the Live 8 concert, Eden Project in Cornwall) on 2 July 2005, with Dido.
In 2006, N'Dour played the African-British abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the movie Amazing Grace, which chronicles the efforts of William Wilberforce to end slavery in the British Empire.
He covered John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" for the 2007 CD Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. He also featured in a joint Spain-Senegal ad campaign against illegal immigrants.
Youssou N'Dour participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007.
In 2009 N'Dour released his song "Wake Up (It's Africa Calling)" under Creative Commons license to help IntraHealth International in their IntraHealth Open campaign to bring open source health applications to Africa. The song was remixed by a variety of artists including Nas, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Duncan Sheik to help raise money for the campaign.