For many Senegalese Youssou N’Dour is more than just a singer: he is a living symbol of success, almost a legend even for those who are not his fans.
Taxi drivers carrying foreigners around Dakar point at the building hosting his media group (comprising a newspaper, a radio and a tv station) as they do with the most notable places in the Senegalese capital. In many cars, the radio is also playing the almost hypnotic refrain of his song Begg Na Leen. This is one of the five tracks of his latest EP, Senegaal Rekk, the first leg of a project which also will see a new album being released by the end of the year.
Despite being the object of a massive advertisement campaign (including SMSs sent on mobile phones), Senegaal Rekk is not just a commercial operation, N’Dour says. “It is not an album ‘for tourists’, it is something intellectual, something I have thought of deeply”, he told journalists during the release press conference. For sure, it marks his comeback on the scenes after some years in which the world-famous “king of mbalax” has privileged his political career over his musical projects. After his candidacy for the 2012 presidential elections against incumbent head of State Abdoulaye Wade was rejected, he threw all his weight behind the then opposition candidate Macky Sall. Once he was elected, Sall rewarded N’Dour by making him the minister of Culture and Tourism in the new government. Later, the singer had to leave these positions but he was named a presidential advisor.
When serving in the government, N’Dour didn’t completely relinquish music, but he put his skills at the service of other causes. In August 2012 Senegal was severely hit by floods. N’Dour exceptionally joined three other Senegalese artists, Omar Pène, Ismaël Lô and Thione Seck, onstage in order to collect funds for those affected by the natural disaster. Senegaal Rekk and the bigger project that will follow are a further demonstration that the Senegalese superstar has not lost sight of the artistic side of his career. Among the songs that have been already released, the most outstanding (apart from Begg Na Leen) is Serin Fallu, dedicated to a key religious figure of Senegalese Islam: sérigne Fallou Mbacké, the second caliph of the Mouride brotherhood and son of its founder Cheikh Amadou Bamba. The support of the powerful Mouride religious chiefs, during the years, has proven to be essential for those seeking political success, and N’Dour certainly is among them. However this doesn’t seem to be the main reason behind this song. N’Dour is himself a committed mouride: he has on a number of occasions taken part in the pilgrimage to the mouride spiritual ‘headquarters’, the holy city of Touba. Moreover, paying homage to a spiritual figure revered by many Senegalese is also in line with the spirit of the entire album. During the release press conference, the singer explained that his aim in recording these songs was paying homage to Senegal and its people for the support he received from them, then he added a few words outlining the message he wanted to convey. “We must reinforce the extraordinary diversity in ethnicity, tongue and religion we enjoy in this country, we must reinforce cohesion, democracy and freedom of expression”, he said.
For the moment, N’Dour fans reacted by massively buying Senegaal Rekk, which, in just one week, topped the total sales of the previous album, Alsaama Day. These numbers might be a good sign for the upcoming album, Africa Rekk, that according to Sony records will be released on the international market next October. N’Dour himself described it as “a travel in both modern and traditional Africa, crossing different African cultures”. Africa Rekk will include several duets with other artists, whose names are still to be announced. The US-Senegalese artist Akon, however, might well be one of them: in fact, he is already featuring in Song Daan, the third track of Senegaal Rekk. A world tour is also scheduled from November onwards and two of the dates have an extremely symbolic meaning: on 18th and 19th November, in fact, N’Dour will play at Bataclan, the Paris concert hall which was attacked in the same month last year. N’Dour, who has a long tradition of advocating for peace and reconciliation (he was named a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in 1984) will be one of the first artist to perform at Bataclan after its reopening.