Youssou N'Dour

Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour & Etoile de Dakar

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It's widely accepted wisdom that the early, rawer material of Youssou N'Dour had an edge he's never been able to recapture since becoming a major international star. Certainly his more recent studio recordings lack the urgency and energy of the material here, which was recorded in the early '80s when he was the frontman of Étoile de Dakar, before personnel splits left him heading up the new Super Étoile de Dakar and starting to make his first global inroads. The Cuban influence that had pervaded Senegalese music was still apparent at the beginning of N'Dour's career, and it can be heard in tracks like "Absa Gueye" and "Jalo," while the epic "Thiapathioly," a big West African hit, shows the start of the transition to a more individual sound, the juddering, polyrhythmic mbalax, with its sabar drums cutting across the beat. By the time the last couple of tracks from the new band appear, the group had turned into a powerful, unstoppable outfit with N'Dour's trademark high, keening griot voice the central instrument, since he was no longer sharing the spotlight with the two other vocalists, who'd left to form Étoile 2000. As an insight into N'Dour's relatively early development -- he was in his early twenties during this period -- this shows him gaining in confidence and ability, both as a singer and a writer, slowly nailing down the percussive mbalax style that would bring him fame and developing his charisma in front of a band.

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