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Youssou N'dour on BBC WS Outlook
"I have a mission to develop something"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Youssou N'dour: Africa's music missionary
Youssou N'dour
Youssou N'dour: 'Sometimes I feel like a missionary'
Youssou N'dour is probably Africa's most popular musician of the last decade.

Folk Roots magazine has even gone so far as to describe him as "Africa's Artist of the Century."

Rise to fame
1986 - Toured with Paul Simon
1987 - Toured with Peter Gabriel
1988 - Amnesty International world tour
Album releases: The Lion, Set, Eyes Open
1994 - Hit single Seven Seconds with Neneh Cherry
1998 - Sings World Cup official theme tune

That could be debated, considering the achievements of other African greats like the late Franco of the former Zaire, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti of Nigeria, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba of South Africa and Manu Dibango of Cameroon.

But the 40-year-old Senegalese star has become arguably the most easily recognised African musician on the international scene.

Now, the release of his first album in five years, Joko - from Village to Town, is attracting a lot of international media attention.

Youssou for president

Youssou N'dour
Youssou N'dour: 'Africa's Artist of the Century'

The new album features contributions from such well-known names as Peter Gabriel and Sting and some of the tracks were co-produced by Wyclef Jean of the Fugees.

The album is said to have more of a hip-hop feel than the mbalax sounds of Senegal for which Youssou is best know in Dakar.

"I try to bring things out in the modern way and in the urban way and musically I create a lot of connections," he explained.

"Pure Senegalese music popularity is not the point. This music, fantastic music is some kind of language, you need to know a lot to feel this music 100%."

Sometimes I feel like a missionary

Youssou N'dour

In Senegal, Youssou N'dour continues to attract a huge and dedicated following, some of whom have even called for the star to become president of the country.

But the star refuses to be drawn into the political firmament.

"No, I'm not interested in politics. Politics is another job. It's something different."

"Sometimes I tell people that if I become president and the next day people don't have food to eat then I'll be the one to be blamed. My best ideal is to have things happening musically," he explained.

Emperor Youssou

His popularity at home can be explained partly by the fact that, unlike other famous African musicians now based in the west, he has chosen to remain at home in Dakar, close to his roots.

I try to bring things out in the modern way

Youssou N'dour

"I get more energy in Senegal because of my family," he said about making Dakar his base for international stardom.

"Sometimes I feel like a missionary."

"I have a mission to develop something, to bring people together, bring things together, to make things happen at home. I feel I can do something at home if I stayed," Youssou explained.

Youssou N'dour
'I've tried to open doors for other artists'
"I think it's not just a musical situation, it's also a family situation, and the weather situation," added Youssou who lives with his wife and three children.

He may not be a president but Youssou has also created an empire with the ownership of a newspaper, L'Info Sept, a recording studio Xippi, a record label Jojoli, a night-club, The Thiossane and an FM radio station, Com Sept.

"All these things happening now my studio, my label, my club, or my radio station or my newspaper is happening because I'm already a musician," Youssou says.

"My newspaper is not my newspaper. It's just a kind of help, to solve the employment problem and to give the journalists the chance to do what they really want to do."

Humble beginnings

Youssou N'dour was born in Dakar on 1 October 1959, the eldest son of a garage mechanic and a well-known traditional praise singer or griot.

My father used to tell me about how musicians don't have respect from people

Youssou N'dour
He began singing at an early age at traditional gatherings, especially circumcision ceremonies in Dakar.

"My family, especially my mother, was a griot," said Youssou in an interview with the BBC.

"Griots are a kind of storytellers. Before we had radio or TV they kept all the stories and when they had occasions, with a lot of people around they talked about who you are where u coming from who you are connected with and about your city or village," he explained.

Even though his mother did not actively seek to get the young Youssou singing, N'dour somehow gravitated towards music and singing.

His father did all he could to persuade Youssou to pursue the path to a "proper profession".

"I did not go along with my mother but my father tried to get me out of the griot tradition, out of music," Youssou said.

"My father used to tell me about how musicians don't have respect from people and he was afraid about my future," Youssou recollects.

The new offering

After a fairly long wait, followers of world music and Youssou N'dour fans can begin to judge for themselves if the maestro's latest offering is as good as past offerings.

Some tracks on Joko are a blend of mbalax and western pop rhythms.

But why has it taken him so long to release?

"I've tried to open doors for other artists and promote the wealth of local talent. I have nearly 200 people working for me and that's important for the economy," Youssou explained to reporters.

Joko has been released on Columbia Records.

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02 Apr 00 | Africa
New era for Senegal
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