Youssou N'Dour

Joko: The Link

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In essence, this is a reworking of Joko From Village to Town, which only appeared in Europe. However, slimmed down a bit by removing most of the duets (only "This Dream," featuring mentor Peter Gabriel, survives the cut) and all the remixes, it's definitely leaner and meaner. N'Dour has often been rightly accused of released watered-down albums for a non-African audience, but the addition of two Senegalese cuts, "Miss" and "Madema (The Electricity Is Out Again)," both fine examples of his hard Dakar m'balax style, show that Western audiences can readily accept the real thing. N'Dour himself might have lost a vocal step or two since the glory days of the 1980s, but he can still come in high and sweet with that remarkable voice, like a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, and outsing most people on the planet. The band, too, is in superb form, with longtime bassist/arranger Habib Faye and outstanding bastion. The record's at its best when it's just N'Dour and the band, flying full throttle, with the tama drum chattering and skittering across the complex dance rhythm. When it slows up, as on "This Dream," and programming becomes a part of the equation, something's definitely lost, be it excitement or spontaneity. The exception is in the epic closer, "Red Dirt," an eloquent plea for Africa, with N'Dour at his impassioned best. All too often, re-jigging an album is a sign of failure; in this case, it's a sign of success.

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