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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Youssou N'Dour

By Tom Pryor
Published August 1, 2005


Never, ever underestimate Youssou N'Dour. Just when you think that the Senegalese legend might be content to rest on his laurels and coast a bit, he takes a real risk and does something absolutely brilliant. On his latest effort, Egypt, N'Dour strips down his usual mbalax ensemble to the bare bones and teams them with the Fathy Salama Orchestra, a 15-piece Egyptian unit well-versed in the Arab classical tradition. Recorded in both Dakar and Cairo, the concept here was to explore how Islamic, specifically Sufi, musical traditions played out differently in the two deeply devout countries. The result is a dazzling tour-de-force that bolsters the irresistible rhythmic throb of West Africa with the majesty and sweep of Egyptian strings and reeds. Sung sweetly in Wolof, such songs as "Allah," "Baay Niasse" and "Cheikh Ibra Fall" celebrate the tolerant, communal and deeply poetic traditions within Islam, making the project a timely prayer for peace, as well as one of N'Dour's best albums in years.