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CD: Youssou N'Dour - History | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Youssou N'Dour - History

CD: Youssou N'Dour - History

Golden voice of Africa: over-produced

Youssou - African ambassador to the world

Yousou N’Dour has come a long way from his cassettes with Super Etoile de Dakar, that wild mbalax energy, fed by the clatter of the high-pitched sabar drums, with vocals that soared and fizzed with emotion and soul.  Today’s Youssou is air-brushed and smooth, world music for global tastes, with a slickness that almost - but not quite – submerges the unique quality of the heart-stirring voice that made him famous.

Salif Keita, that other super-charged West African voice, led the way back in the late 80s, with rock-flavoured productions by Ibrahim Sylla.  As with Youssou’s more recent albums, Salif's naturally stunning voice was laden with echo, when it’s intrinsic quality and charisma barely need tweaking. Thankfully, somewhere along the line, Salif went back to his roots, abandoning electric guitars and reverb-heavy productions.  We can only wish that Youssou N’Dour would do the same, as “History” while posing as an album that connects with the past, only pays lip service to tradition, barely touching on the qualities that made Senegalese dance music, that infectious mix of Africa and Cuban rumba so appealing.

There are collaborations with two Swedish singers of African descent  -   Seinabo Sey and Mohombi – both bringing a distinctly international flavour to the mix, the latter with the dancehall rhythms and boyish vocals that have won him hits in Scandinavia. The production is elegant but without much grit, this is pop, and no doubt just what Youssou N’Dour was aiming for, as a self-styled ambassador of Africa, and a champion of UNICEF and other causes.

Retreads of songs included in earlier albums – “Salimata” and “Ay Coono La” offer little that is new, with production that smooths out the soul and vigour of the originals. The best moment comes in the song “Habib Saye” which opens the album, a song dedicated to the late bass player of Super Etoile, and in the tradition of African praise songs, a celebration full of warm elation, featuring the infectious charm and soul that, in spite of the pop and audience-friendly packaging, still make Youssou N’Dour a vocal force to be reckoned with.

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