Tuesday, January 22, 2008

hidden gemz: Youssou N'Dour

In 2004, Rolling Stone labeled Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour as "perhaps the most famous singer alive." "How could that be?" you ask. "I've never heard of him." Let's put this into perspective: Africa is the second most populated continent after Asia, with a total population estimated at about 1 billion. And for more than 20 years this musical demographic has belonged to Youssou N'Dour.

Africa's musical history is both rich and complex. In essence, music seeped out of Africa beginning with the slave trade and eventually led to the creation of rock and roll via the blues. Starting in the 60's, American music began making its way back to Africa, and eventually clashing with both Soukous (African rumba) and the introduction of Cuban music (first in the Congo, then everywhere else).

I couldn't even begin to illustrate how popular / important Youssou is in Africa. (Wikipedia does a pretty good job at hitting the important points). But even outside Africa, Youssou is considered a major force. Some of his Western collaborations have included Paul Simon, Dido, Wyclef Jean, Branford Marsalis, and a co-headlining gig in 1988 with Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, Sting, and BRUUUUUCE on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour.

In 2007 Youssou released Rokku Mi Rokka, his first album in three years (his third on Nonesuch). The album had a very quiet American release, yet somehow Rolling Stone actually got something right and voted it #30 on their Top 50 Albums of 2007 list.

Check out "4-4-44" (a reference to Senegal's 44 years of independence) the opening track to Rokku Mi Rokka, below, as well as Youssou and his boy Peter Gabriel doing a nearly 10 minute rendition of "In Your Eyes."

Youssou N'Dour - 4-4-44 [from 2007's Rokku Mi Rokka]

No comments: