Inclusive performance from Senegalese performer
This article is from 2016.
At 56, some might consider Senegalese vocalist Youssou N'Dour may be of an age where he can get away with a relaxed retread of past glories on the live stage. Known in the UK almost solely for his 1994 hit with Neneh Cherry '7 Seconds', he bears a career in his home country of Senegal which makes a mockery of what's usually referred to as rock 'elder statesperson' status over here. He's released over 30 albums in as many years, acted on screen, written opera, engaged in extensive activism, served as his country's tourism and culture minister, and stood for the presidency of Senegal in 2012.
Despite such a range of extracurricular activities, however, his musical performance is still urgent and rooted in what is apparently a youthful vision of Africa. In Edinburgh to speak at the Edinburgh International Culture summit, he performed to an oddly mixed audience; an older, more traditional Edinburgh International Festival audience in one regard, who remained tightly in their seats and had to be coaxed to their feet; and in the other, a lot of impossibly glamorous young Africans who were on their feet in the aisles as soon as the first heavily percussive sabra drumming hit.
N'Dour cut a suave, youthful figure, in a silken white suit with what looked like diamante detail down the chest, and his performance was unrushed. Around him massed his 12-piece group Le Super Etoile De Dakar, with two percussionists alongside his drummer, two keyboard players, a saxophonist and two backing singers. His dancer Pape Moussa Sonko was fiercely energetic, gymnastic almost, and one of N'Dour's percussionists took the role of hypeman, geeing the crowd up every so often.
All of this played out in an oddly unfussy environment, with no stage curtains meaning the grand wooden organ gallery was exposed and a minimal lighting set-up giving more of the feel of a massive community centre. It was an arrangement which proved hugely welcoming for a show which felt egalitarian and inclusive, especially considering it came from a one-time presidential candidate. When '7 Seconds' arrived, it felt musically more like an anticipated sop to a Western audience than anything else; the true heart of this show came in tracks like 'Fatteliku' and 'New Africa', their thunderous rhythms enthusing a fans like the man who joyously invaded the stage wrapped in a Senegalese flag.
Seen at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 24 Aug. Run ended.