Youssou N'Dour


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There have been some fine reggae musicians to emerge from sub-Saharan Africa (Alpha Blondy and the late Lucky Dube chief among them), but African reggae often suffers from being a bit soft in the middle, and insufficiently hooky. But with Dakar-Kingston, the hugely popular Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour has managed to create a powerful new sound that blends the best aspects of his West African heritage (subtle and multilayered percussion instruments, heartbreakingly beautiful cascading guitar lines) with contributions by some of the best reggae musicians in the world (Earl "Chinna" Smith, Tyrone Downie, Dean Fraser, Bongo Herman, etc.). Alternating between English, French, and Wolof, he sings original songs that address social and cultural issues relevant to his homeland specifically, and to the African diaspora generally; he pays requisite and rather banal tribute to Bob Marley ("Marley" would have been less trite if it weren't for the list of song titles it includes), and he celebrates the spread of African musical influences throughout the world. There's some ska ("Bamba"), some excellent lovers rock ("Black Woman"), and a very fine adaptation of the "sufferer's anthem" concept to particularly African concerns ("Don't Walk Away"). And at the very end, there's another Marley tribute, this one much more effective than the first: when you notice "Redemption Song" on the program it's hard not to sigh. Does the world really need another moist and overly earnest cover of that inimitable Marley composition? But N'Dour's version is different. It's not really reggae, but then neither was Marley's original; it's a deeply personal statement rendered through another man's words in a musical style that consists entirely of preexisting musical elements that nevertheless add up to a unique musical result. In that sense, N'Dour's version of "Redemption Song" can stand as a microcosm of this album generally.

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