Youssou N’Dour (pronounced, ‘Jusu n du’), the Senegalese singer, born 1 October 1959 in Dakar, is one of the most famous and celebrated African singers in history. Youssou began performing at the age of 12 and and a few years later, found himself joining The Star Band, one of Senegal’s most popular musical ensembles. Youssou N’Dour went on to form his own group, Etoile de Dakar, and his rise to international superstardom started from there. He was nominated for a Grammy in 1994 for ‘7 seconds’, a duet with Neneh Cherry. In 2005, he won a Grammy Award for his album Egypt, and Rolling Stone magazine named his 2007 album, Rokku Mi Rokka, as one of the Top 50 Albums of the Year.
His musical contribution has greatly impacted the face of Senegalese music with energetic beats called Mbalax. He has become an activist for Africa, campaigning for AIDS awareness and speaking against corruption and genocide. Now decades into his musical career, he is about to release a new album and continues to entertain his fans across the world. We tracked him down in Senegal and he spared some time to answer our questions.
What are you currently working on now? Is a new album round the corner?
The new album is called “Dakar – Kingston”; it is a reggae album that I recorded in Tuff Gong studios Jamaica and it is produced by Tyrone Downie, the ex wailer.
For those who do not know your music, how would you classify your music genre, How would you describe your music?
People like to say world music, I just call it African music, more specifically Senegalese music, even this reggae album is melted with Senegalese percussions and Senegalese vibes!
BBC has named you the best African musician of all time, and In 2007, Time Magazine named you one of 100 most influential people, How do you think your music has influenced people in Africa or Africans globally?
My music or my different actions with organizations like Amnesty international, UNICEF, FAO, today we cannot be just artists, we have a responsibility as artists to make things move forward, and I like to do so.
With over 30 years in music, what/who has inspired you the most in your success?
Nelson Mandela will always be “the man” for me, our father. But of course a lot of people have inspired me, musically, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, and old
traditional African artists
What do you consider to be the biggest professional lesson you learned along the way?
My first international tour with my friend Peter Gabriel, we learned so much and so quick on his side. We learned to become professional, to pay attention to the contracts, to be on time for interviews or on stage, etc… and especially, when I started to tour with Peter, I learned that the lyrics of my song counted. I mean, before, I sang my country, my family, when we did the human rights now tour together, I realized that I had a big opportunity to deliver strong messages in my lyrics.
Do you have a favorite song of which you are most proud of and why?
New Africa is one my favorite songs, I think it’s a powerful song, it tells the story of people like Kwame Nkrumah, or Cheikh Anta Diop, as well as Steven Biko, people who died for their battles, who fight for their people.
Your music often portrays your strong cultural roots. What makes you proud to be a Senegalese, and African?
When people and media talk about Africa, it’s always to talk about poverty, AIDS or war, but it’s not only that. We have a very rich culture, tradition. We have story tellers called griots, I’m proud to be one of them, like my grand mother and my mother were, I‘m just a modern griot.
Will we be seeing you performing in the USA again soon?
I hope soon with my new album, probably beginning of next year.
What do you do to relax?
I relax in the planes ! My phone cannot ring, it’s the best rest for me!