This captivating recording Live in Athens was made when the star of Youssou N’Dour had just begun to flash across the musical stratosphere, as he came to be one of the most recognisable voices on planet Earth. It is true that when the great Senegalese singer and activist was first heard all over the world it was thanks to Verna Gillis and Soundscape, the leading ethnomusicologist, who produced his most iconic recording Wommat (Columbia, 1994) propelling Youssou N’Dour into a rarefied realm. However this live performance had already become a defining moment in his career and it was probably here, in Athens in 1987, that Youssou N’Dour et le Super Etoile de Dakar was introduced to the world.
It is now anachronistic to suggest that the music of Africa is viscerally exciting, but listening to this recording is affirmation that this is indeed true. From the upwardly leaping figurations of nearly two octaves in Youssou N’Dour’s brilliant countertenor the music is summarily launched. This is Youssou N’Dour trenchantly proclaimed and carried through by his superb ensemble of percussionists aiming his cheerful unaggressive energy towards the sun. Tension tightens during Nelson Mandela (from the 1986 recording of the same name), a song that deserved greater recognition than it received then as now. Those fortissimo chords preceding the immediate pianissimo before the recapitulation speak Youssou N’Dour as well. Throughout the performance and its recorded moments the intensity of the music is palpable in Youssou N’Dour’s ethos and intensified music.
Artistic imprints pierce the surface of the songs and N’Dour often goes below the voice to also mine the subtext of the lyrics – all sung in Wolof – but generally this music sticks, if you will, to N’Dour’s original scheme which can switch from tears to tempestuousness without faxing the artist in the least bit. Throughout this crazy whirl the music is lifted to another stage in its evolution. This is the true genius of Youssou N’Dour, who breaks cover almost immediately he starts singing to invent new and unbelievably brilliant folk forms making them part of his artistic approach to music that he turns into an instantly appealing art form. You don’t really need to follow the vocals at this point as you are likely to fall under the spell of the singer and his group. However, those translations are imperative as Youssou N’Dour is a formidable poet as later recordings of his work show.
However, that is the only aspect of this package that could probably be identified as one of the faults in this presentation. The producers of the recording, RealWorld, have chosen instead to adorn the package with a wonderfully-written essay by Jane Cornwall that brings the performance to life – well, somewhat to life, at any rate. What would have been infinitely more precious would have been to band this recording with the film Peter Gabriel Live in Athens 1987 the main event from which this concert is taken. But that would be quite another story. Still, if any listeners have access to that film footage, they will be able to experience in greater depth the phenomenon of the Youssou N’Dour of this 1987 recording, which is an iconic one indeed.
Track List: Immigres; KOCC Barma; Nelson Mandela; Ndobine; Sama Dom/My Daughter; In Your Eyes.
Personnel: Youssou N’Dour: lead vocals; Ousseynou Ndiaye: background vocals; Faliou Niang Galass: drums; Babacar Mbaye Dieye Faye: percussion; Assane Thiam: talking drum; Thierno Koite: saxophone; Mamadou ‘Jimi’ Mbaye: lead guitar; Pape Oumar Ngom: rhythm guitar; Habib Faye: bass guitar, keyboards; Fatou Marietou Koita: dancer; Peter Gabriel: vocals (6); Manu Katche: drums (6); Tony Levin: bass, backing vocals (6); David Rhodes: guitar (6); David Sancious: keyboards (6).
Label: RealWorld Records
Release date: October 2015
Running time: 50:41
Buy music on: amazon
About Youssou N’Dour
Youssou N’Dour is a Senegalese singer, percussionist, songwriter, composer, occasional actor, businessman and a politician. In 2004, Rolling Stone described him as, “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and much of Africa. From April 2012 to October 2012, he was Senegal’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, and from October 2012 to September 2013, he was Senegal’s Minister of Tourism and Leisure. Read more…