Youssou N'Dour

Birth of a Star

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Taken from material released in the '80s by the French Melodie label, these pieces were recorded before N'Dour became a major international star (as the title indicates). As such, he was making music for the home market, which wanted its mbalax sound hard -- and that's what he gave them. He was still putting the elements together, but the basic components were in place -- the rhythm and that remarkable high griot voice, then at its raw best. It's interesting to compare "Alboury" in this version to the one on Set, several years later. There's a pumping energy here that has become channeled on the later recording -- maybe not as focused, but with a flavor of youth that's undeniable. And that energy transmits itself through all these tracks. There's a sense of adventure and daring that only comes with the discovery of a sound or style, and the eagerness to explore it to the limits. The recording quality isn't as good as it would be in a few years, but in some respects that hardly matters. The music shines, and demands attention and dancing. At times a Cuban influence appears (natural, really, given its previous prevalence in Senegalese popular music), but N'Dour keeps it pushed down as he's finding himself. An exciting and rewarding budget disc, giving a real sense of what was to come.

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