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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Youssou N'Dour

Published March 3, 2006

The Rough Guide To Youssou N’Dour And Etoile de Dakar

Before he exploded onto the international scene in the early 1980s, Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour cut his teeth as the leader of Etoile (Star) de Dakar. Between 1977 and 1980, N’Dour, backed by a 12-piece band, made mbalax (from a Wolof word meaning “rhythm”) Senegal’s national pop music. Early hits like “Absa Gueye” and “Thiapathioly” still carried the echoes of rumba, Africa’s answer to Cuban son. But by the time songs like “Walo” were released in the early 1980s, the rhythms of mbalax—an amalgam of traditional rhythms and modernity that reflected the heady first years of Senegal’s independence—were established. Unlike his colleagues, N’Dour sang about present-day issues (including women’s rights, still a hot-button issue in much of northern and western Africa) over his new-fangled music, and this endeared him to audiences throughout Senegal and French-speaking Africa. N’Dour formed his new band, Super Etoile, in 1980, and two songs, 1982’s “Independence” and “Wadiour,” signaled N’Dour’s readiness to take on the world with an unapologetic electric instrumentation that mingled freely with the more insistent and intricately arranged percussion. The West didn’t stand a chance.

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