Senegal’s greatest living artist Youssou N’Dour is back with a major album that subtly alternates between tradition and modernity. ‘History’ strikes a balance between modern sounds and his african roots with variey and eclecticism.
Both in his home country and internationally, Youssou N'Dour has long been the most famous singer from Senegal, even if you don't know him by name. Not only has he appeared onstage with Peter Gabriel - his golden voice first came to the attention of a wide global audience opening for Peter Gabriel on his tour for ‘So’ - but he provided the iconic Wolof backing vocals that elevated Gabriel's hit "In Your Eyes" from pleasant pop song to a thing of beauty.
Youssou N'Dour is an artist with history, to put it mildly. Now, he's also an artist with ‘History’ - a brand new album on which N'Dour pays tribute to his past, reflects on the present, and looks to the future on ten lush tracks. There is a natural sweetness to N'Dour's vocal delivery, and he sings with as much supple grace today as he has for the last three decades. The instrumental colour and softness that accompanies him, largely in the form of hand drums, guitars, and sax, complements his dulcet tones well, giving the whole album an effortless feel, though the emotion in his lyrical themes and vocal execution prove his hard work.
Included is a tribute to Habib Faye his late bassist, a great remix ‘Birima’ with Seinabo Sey and the duet ‘Hello’ with Mohombi amoungst many other treasures. A little prince of the Dakar medina since his early youth, Youssou Ndour is now growing and evolving within the wider matrix of Africa, influenced by the entire continent’s sounds, moods, and successes. Ndour’s Africa is a continent that’s alive, always in motion. It is therefore an open and informed album that the Senegalese artist offers us. Ndour has never hidden the importance he attaches to linking the past to the future.
The songs on ‘History’ are great, the arrangements lovely. The guest list is impressive, and the stylistic variety N'Dour curates impeccable. More than that, though, is one key intangible: N'Dour's soul. It comes through in the care with which he puts together an album, and, of course, it comes through in his unmistakable voice, stable and melismatic, a joy to listen to.
'History' would be a tower of Babel, if the musical science of Youssou Ndour was not anchored in the musical traditions of his mother, Ndèye Sokhna Mboup, a griot in Nelson Mandela’s fighting Africa; and in the values taught by the Mouride brotherhood, founded by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. Ndour honoured the brotherhood’s values with his golden voice on the album ‘Egypt’, which earned him a Grammy in 2005, a decade after the ever-fascinating “7 Seconds,” an absolute hit recorded with Neneh Cherry.