Youssou N'Dour

Youssou N'Dour

The mentor

Published in 2009

Hailed as “African artist of the century”, Senegalese singer, composer and producer Youssou N’Dour, 48, has been thrilling audiences around the world for three decades with his distinctive music.

“The history of Africa seems locked inside his extraordinary voice,” said Rolling Stone magazine of N’Dour who was named one of Time’s “100 Most Important People” of 2007 for his musical, humanitarian and cultural contributions.

N’Dour grew up immersed in the music of his griot – praise-singer – mother, with his own talents quickly marking him as a boy wonder. From performances in Dakar’s medina (old quarter), he joined the Star Band in 1976 and soon formed the Etoile de Dakar ensemble, renamed the Super Etoile in 1981. In the mid-1980s, he came to the attention of Peter Gabriel who was moved by N’Dour’s unique mix of traditional Senegalese rhythms and Afro-Cuban, jazz and rock beats, known as mbalax, and helped launch him onto the world stage.

N’Dour has collaborated with other musical luminaries such as Paul Simon and Sting. His hit, Seven Seconds, with Neneh Cherry, was named Europe’s song of the year at the 1995 World Music Awards and served as a springboard to stardom and dozens of albums and sell-out performances. His latest international release, Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take), which follows the Grammy Award-winning, Sufi-inspired Egypt (2005), reflects his desire for a balanced exchange between Africa and the rest of the world.

“Artists have power…and I want to use my music to bring all peoples together,” says N’Dour, a long-serving UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He is also an anti-malaria campaigner and heads a foundation to help African children. In Dakar, he has set up a newspaper, nightclub, radio station and recording studio, creating jobs and promoting young Senegalese musicians.

In 2008, N’Dour launched Birima, a micro-credit society designed to help people in Senegal start their own small businesses.