PROFILE: Youssou N'Dour: Singing for Senegal
Jan 3, 2012, 14:09 GMT
Dakar - With his West African rhythms and rich, bluesy voice, his music has already influenced international artists from Paul Simon to Peter Gabriel.
Now Youssou N'Dour - once dubbed 'Africa's most famous living musician' by Rolling Stone magazine - hopes to influence generations of Senegalese with his bid to stand in February for the presidency of the West African country.
N'Dour, 52, who started singing as a 12-year-old, has always composed lyrics with strong social undertones.
He has performed with Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Wyclef Jean and Lou Reed. The New York Times once called him 'a supple weapon deployed with prophetic authority.'
In Senegal, where he has lent his voice to numerous social campaigns in recent years - including a hugely successful Roll Back Malaria drive to boost bed net use in the country - he is as cherished a figure as he is in Paris and New York.
And although N'Dour's stadium concerts outside of Senegal are always sold out, the Dakar taxi drivers who play his music videos on repeat on their seatback television screens can give tourists directions to his nightclub, Thiossane.
He never turned his back on his homeland, they'll say. Indeed, if N'Dour is in town on a Saturday night, chances are you'll catch him busting out a soulful melody at 3 am at Thiossane.
N'Dour's loyalty to Senegal will likely form a cornerstone of his platform in the run-up to the February 26 vote.
'I don't have any ties overseas,' N'Dour told viewers of his Dakar-based television station, after announcing the move late Monday. 'Everything I've earned, I've invested in Senegal,' he said.
After a start singing with the Star Band in Dakar - which went on to become N'Dour's own ensemble, L'etoile de Dakar - N'Dour has gone on to: win a Grammy; earn an honorary degree in music from Yale University; work as an actor; serve as a goodwill ambassador for the UN; and open a newspaper, a television network and a radio station.
His music - which blends Senegal's rhythmic mbalax style with pop and blues influences - and social activism is wildly popular among all generations of Senegalese.
But his challenge in taking on incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, whom he was close to until 2005, will lie in persuading his fans that he would make an equally fine leader.
'I'm not highly educated,' N'Dour said late Monday, adding that his knowledge has come from the world rather than books.
Although that fact will not necessarily pose a problem in Senegal - which has a literacy rate that hovers around the 60-per-cent mark - many Senegalese pride themselves on living in one of Africa's most developed countries, a country where past presidents have included academics and a poet.
N'Dour is up against several contenders besides Wade, who has been in power since 2000 and has been the force behind a new airport, highways, a school of architecture and a controversial bronze statue that towers over Dakar.
In comparison, N'Dour is expected to market himself as a man of the people.
'Do not look at me in the distance,' he sang in the Senegalese Wolof language on the 1994 classic Seven Seconds, a duet with Neneh Cherry.
'You're like me, and I want to help everyone,' the lyrics say.
For the singer that Rolling Stone described as having 'a voice so extraordinary that the entire history of Africa seems locked inside it,' the challenge now lies in developing his political voice to capture the future of Senegal.