Described by Rolling Stone as ‘the most famous singer alive’, Youssou N’Dour is someone whom virtually all music lovers, including Tunde Folawiyo, have probably heard of. Hailing from Senegal, N’Dour is responsible for sharing the genre known as ‘mbalax’ with the world; this is a fusion of Senegalese praise-singing and percussion, with Afro-Cuban music.
N’Dour was a particularly prolific performer during the eighties and nineties; his highly innovative style, which artfully combined contemporary sounds with indigenous African musical traditions, was immensely popular across the continent and beyond. In addition to recording a large body of solo work, N’Dour has, over the course of his long career, collaborated with many well-known musicians, including Neneh Cherry, Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon.
Born in Dakar in 1959, he expressed an interest in music at a very young age, and by the time he was 12, had already started to perform publically, singing at religious gatherings in his neighbourhood. As time went on, he joined the Star Band, a hugely popular music group in Dakar during the seventies. However, it wasn’t until the mid-eighties that N’Dour’s voice became known internationally, after he formed what would become his most famous group, Super Etoile de Dakar, which featured Assane Thiam, Habib Faye and Jimi Mbaye.
In 1986, his vocals were used on Peter Gabriel’s album ‘So’, as well as Paul Simon’s Graceland; this led to him touring with the former, as an opening act. Two years later, he was asked to co-headline with Tracy Chapman, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Gabriel at an Amnesty International gig, and a few months later, he performed for Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert. Shortly after this, he released The Lion, an album which drew widespread acclaim.
N’Dour has continued to compose and tour throughout the past two decades. As a music fan, Tunde Folawiyo may remember that 2005 was a particularly successful year for this singer, with his record Egypt winning him a Grammy in the category ‘Best Contemporary World Music Album, and the publication Folk Roots naming him as the top African Artist of the Last Century. Three years later, Yale University awarded him an honorary music doctoral degree, and in 2013, N’Dour was one of the chosen winners for the shared Polar Music Prize.