Like his last two releases for Nonesuch, 2002's Nothing's in Vain and 2004's stunning Egypt, Youssou N'Dour's Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take) is a glistening, polished work that perpetuates the singer's recurring role as one of Africa's greatest gifts to music. Where Egypt was something of a side trip for N'Dour, a tribute to his Sufi faith, Rokku Mi Rokka takes on more of a mainstream melodic pop sheen, with an eye toward the northern desert country for inspiration. N'Dour, in addition to using his regular musicians, reunites here with members of his early-career Super Etoile de Dakar band as well as other players with whom he's been comfortable for years (gotta love Ali Farka Touré sideman Bassekou Kouyate on the four-stringed n'goni), so the results are familiar and the groove locked in tight. Neneh Cherry, who performed a duet with N'Dour on 1994's hit "7 Seconds," returns for a rap on the album-closing mbalax-funk anthem "Wake Up (It's Africa Calling)," which implores the Western world to stop taking Africa for granted and look to the continent for positive vibrations. The opening track, "4-4-44," is a celebration of 44 years of Senegal's independence, bathed in driving, repetitive keyboard riffs, a persistent rhythmic punch, and a midsong horn blast that provides a sudden Memphis-esque R&B kick. As always, much of N'Dour's songwriting addresses tradition and its role in an Africa struggling toward modernization. There are songs of love and songs of politics and spirit. "Tukki" is little more than a simple paean to the joys of traveling, and "Xel" exhorts humans to do the obvious: use their brains and think. But then there's "Sportif," with its drum lick right out of a New Orleans second-line march, whose sole purpose is to remind countrymen that there's no need to take it personally if a favorite wrestler loses a match -- it's only a sport. Go figure. Nonetheless, Youssou N'Dour is never less than thoughtful and intriguing, and his voice is never less than gripping. Rokku Mi Rokka is another gem from an artist who has come to define the African music renaissance.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin