Youssou N'Dour portrait Senegal's Youssou N'Dour is arguably the most famous African pop artist alive; he's certainly one of the leading exponents of the slick, high-tech production style that has grown out of the Parisian expatriate scene over the last few decades... N'Dour began his career singing with the Star Band as a teenager in the early 1970s; by decade's end he had formed his own group, Etoile De Dakar, in 1979. N'Dour and his generation created a new pop style called mbalax music, which became one of the most popular modern African sounds. His music can reach deep into African tradition, or stretch forward into the future. Here's a quick look at his work.


Etoile De Dakar "Volume 1: Absa Gueye" (Stern's, 1994)
This fine four-volume series charts the growth of N'Dour's first famous Senegalese pop band; a perfect set for the completist or true Etoile fanatic.

Etoile De Dakar "Volume 2: Thiapathioly" (Stern's, 1994)

Etoile De Dakar "Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay" (Stern's, 1997)

Etoile De Dakar "Volume 4: Khaley Etoile" (Stern's, 1998)

Etoile De Dakar "Xalis" (Popular African Music, 1997)
A straight reissue of the first Etoile De Dakar album, originally recorded in 1978.

Etoile De Dakar "Sina De Ciganos" (Celluloid, 1997)

Youssou N'Dour "Bitim Rew" (1984)

Youssou N'Dour "Nelson Mandela" (Polydor, 1986)

Youssou N'Dour "Immigres" (1988)

Youssou N'Dour "The Lion" (1989)

Youssou N'Dour "Set" (1990)

Youssou N'Dour "Eyes Open" (Sony-Columbia, 1992)

Youssou N'Dour "The Guide (Wommat)" (Columbia, 1994)

Youssou N'Dour "Inedits 84-85" (1997)

Youssou N'Dour "Special Fin D'annee Plus" (Jololi, 1999)

Youssou N'Dour "Lii" (Jololi, 2000)

Youssou N'Dour "Rewmi" (Jololi, 2000)

Youssou N'Dour "Le Grand Bal" (Jololi, 2000)

Youssou N'Dour "St. Louis" (Jololi, 2000)

Youssou N'Dour "Joko (The Link)" (Nonesuch , 2000)
This is was N'Dour's album in over six years and, like other contemporary African pop albums, it points to a resolution of the aesthetic bridge that separates fans of a more stripped-down sound and those who like the soft stuff. There are still a few touches that make me cringe -- a soprano sax here, an overwrought chorus there -- but overall this album has a nice organic feel to it... pleasant, listenable, seductive. The only problem, really, is that so many of these songs end so quickly; it's as though someone advised N'Dour to trim his tunes down because eight-minute long songs won't get as much airplay in America. The four-minute long compromises mostly end just when things are getting good, and several seem kind of bluntly edited... The good news is, N'Dour's new songs sound great. I just wish I could hear more of them.

Youssou N'Dour "Le Grand Bal A Bercy" (Jololi, 2001)

Youssou N'Dour "Ba Tay" (2002)

Youssou N'Dour "Coono Du Re'er (Nothing's In Vain)" (Nonesuch, 2002)
A sugary-sweet album that wears the "world music" brand proudly. The lyrics may be challenging, but the music is not. English-language listeners will find this album pleasant and easy on the ears, but any deeper message will probably go unnoticed amid the pretty, elfin musical arrangements. Didn't hit a resonant chord with me, but perhaps with repeated listens this disc might shed more emotional depth.

Youssou N'Dour "Youssou N'Dour And His Friends" (Warner/Milan, 2002)

Youssou N'Dour "Kirikou" (Soundtrack) (Universal, 2004)

Youssou N'Dour "Egypt" (Nonesuch, 2004)
Senegalese pop superstar Youssou N'Dour has long been an African cultural icon, a champion and success story, a hero for his region and his continent. This album, however, marks his exploration of religious, rather than secular musical, themes. At a time when Islam and "The West" seem to be facing off in preparation for some sort of idiotic death struggle, N'Dour bravely explores his own connection to his Muslim heritage. N'Dour starts from the Sufi tradition of his native country and works outwards into the wider Egyptian and Arab musical modes... It's a very accomplished and moving album, more vigorous and much less sugary or poppish than many of his own recent recordings. His heart is clearly in this effort, and the emotional resonance of the work is refreshing. Worth checking out!

Youssou N'Dour "Rokku Mi Rokka (Give And Take)" (Nonesuch, 2007)
(Produced by Youssou N'Dour)

A nice, mellow album from Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour...Although it flirts with overproduction, this is, for the most part, a lovely album, with a more stripped-down feel and traditional orientation than most of what N'Dour has done over the last couple of decades... Nice to hear N'Dour in a simpler, less synth-poppy mode again, with instrumental backing by the core members of his SuperStar band, including lead guitar Papa Oumar Ngom, bassist Habib Faye and drummer/percussionist Mbaye Dieye Faye. It's pretty sweet righ up 'til the end: the next-to-last track, an abrasive, unfortunate rap duet with Nenah Cherry, is just awful, and the track that follows is also a bit clunky, but otherwise, this is clear sailing... Fans of African pop who have a more traditional orientation might find this disc a pleasant surprise - definitely worth checking out!

Youssou N'Dour "I Bring What I Love" (Soundtrack) (Nonesuch, 2010)


Etoile De Dakar with Youssou N'Dour "Rough Guide To..." (Rough Guide, 2002)
A perfect overview of the band that brought Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour into the international spotlight. There's a wide variety of styles, ranging from more acoustic and traditional-sounding material, to expansive, hypnotic electric guitar tunes that are closer to the lushly produced, lavish pop that N'Dour makes nowadays. Anyone interested in African pop owes it to themselves to check this disc out; it may open up a whole new world of sound for you!

Youssou N'Dour "The Best Of Youssou N'Dour" (1995)

Youssou N'Dour "Best Of The '80s" (Melodie, 1998)

Youssou N'Dour "Hey You -- The Essential Collection: 1988–1990" (Nascente, 1998)

Youssou N'Dour "Birth Of A Star" (Manteca, 2001)

Youssou N'Dour "7 Seconds: The Very Best Of Youssou N'Dour" (Columbia Legacy, 2004)
Bleahh. This disc gathers some of N'Dour's poppiest work, soft, treacly stuff that puts him in the Kenny G camp, with lots of processed percussion and wayyyyy too much soprano saxophone. These 1992-2000 recordings are mostly -- well, overwhelmingly -- icky and tacky. That being said, if you go for this kind of florid, overproduced pop, this is a generously programmed collection, with sixteen tracks that include hard-to-find singles and several tracks not previously released in the United States.


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