Youssou N'Dour

Le Grand Bal a Bercy

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No one can accuse Youssou N'Dour of not putting on a good show. But he has two different shows, one for the Western audience, and another for Africans -- no matter where they might be. Recorded in Paris in 2000, this concert -- or at least concert excerpt -- was a recreation of his Dakar nightclub act: the full-on, no-holds-barred mbalax of N'Dour and Super Etoile. It was the best of the best, with few concessions to the fact that he had a new record out after several years, or that much of his new audience was Anglophone. The live setting also allowed the band to stretch out, turning the opener, "Yarou," into a ten-minute tour de force, with the tamas offering their staccato, rapid-fire punctuation across the track, anchored by the melodic and rock-solid bass of Habib Faye. Every track is filled with sweat, however, with the band pushing further and further, and guitarist Jimi M'baye unleashing some remarkable solos. However strong the band, though, it's N'Dour, Senegal's biggest musical name, who's the star of the show. And though he doesn't quite have the cataclysmic wail that was his trademark as a young man, he can still come in high, like a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, and enthrall the listener, as he does on his classic "Immigrés." The pace does slow a little with the English-language "Please Wait," whose sweetened ballad tones sound out of place among the frantic, relentless dance rhythms, but quickly picks up again for the closing one-two punch of "Sama Dome" and "Dunya," leaving the crowd -- and even the person listening at home -- eager for a lot more. If you can't catch the man live, this is the next best thing.

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