Senegalese musician Youssou lends golden voice to politics
Posted Thursday, April 5 2012 at 20:26
- Singer jumped to the forefront of an opposition campaign to unseat Wade
Senegal’s music icon Youssou N’Dour has gone from stirring up fans of his homegrown Mbalax beats to rousing political protests for an opposition poll triumph, landing the crooner the culture minister’s job.
One of Africa’s most recognised artists, N’Dour has been a star for over three decades while also becoming a savvy businessman and humanitarian and now, Senegal’s minister of culture and tourism.
His music rattles out of tape-decks in the capital’s aging yellow taxis and sets local dance floors on fire in between pop singers like Rihanna and Akon.
Notoriously late for his home concerts, often coming on stage at 4 am in the morning, N’Dour knows his fans will wait to hear the multiple-octave voice that has lent itself to an astounding career, selling out performances worldwide.
His dulcet tones were put on hold as the 52-year-old, growing ever more disenchanted with the regime, leapt into a heated presidential race in January, only to be disappointed as the country’s top court disqualified his candidacy.
The same court ruling validated the contentious candidacy of then leader Abdoulaye Wade, sparking deadly riots as anger grew over the 85-year old’s plans to rule for another seven-year term.
“Abdoulaye Wade should not even have presented his candidacy as the fundamental law says he does not have the right to do so,” said N’Dour.
The singer jumped to the forefront of an opposition campaign to unseat Wade and was often seen at protests addressing the crowd, or making an appearance as rocks and tear gas flew.
When Macky Sall emerged as the most likely candidate to beat Wade, and 12 failed candidates threw their weight behind him, N’Dour too hit the campaign trail for the opposition candidate, going as far as the restive Casamance to lobby for him.
The Grammy-winning musician has long been involved in social and humanitarian issues, and in recent years had become more and more outspoken about the regime, a stance reflected in his privately owned media.
“I have listened, I have heard, and I am responding favourably,” N’Dour said on January 3 when he announced his political intentions, referring to numerous requests that he throw his hat into the political ring amid rising tension over the incumbent’s bid for a third term in office.
Senegal’s most famous export, N’Dour was born in October 1959 in the tough and populous Medina suburb where he began performing as a child, joining the country’s most popular group Star Band in his mid-teens.
In the 1980s he formed the group The Super Etoile which has become famous touring the world with him.
Probably best known in the West for his “7 Seconds” hit collaboration with Neneh Cherry, N’Dour has also collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Wyclef Jean, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and others.
The artist — whose mother was from a caste of griots, or west African storytellers and musicians — has never let go of his Senegalese roots, and his music is a fusion of Senegal’s popular Mbalax music style with samba, hip-hop, jazz and soul, tackling political and social issues.
“My life is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration,” he said when declaring his candidacy.
In 1985 N’Dour organised a concert for the release of South Africa’s then-apartheid prisoner Nelson Mandela, who went on to become the country’s first black president. He has been involved in scores of benefit concerts.