El Hadj N'Diaye | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


El Hadj N'Diaye is a successful actor as well as a singer in his native Senegal, and appropriately he seems utterly invested in both his most ardent love song ("Ragajuma") and his most strident political anthem ("Xale Bi," about the youngest victims of civil war). His majestic voice is coiled like a snake, ready to spring into a piercing upper register at just the right moment, and whether he's accompanied by his own acoustic guitar or a full complement of percussion and stringed instruments, it remains the focal point of his music. On his new Xel (World Village), N'Diaye pushes his country's mbalax style--an electrification of traditional forms--further West via folk-rock accents and electric guitar by Frenchman Alain Renaud, which creates interesting melodic tension with the repetitive licks played on kora or balafon. Sometimes the music suffers from a polite global artiness that seems aimed directly at the NPR demographic--and considering N'Diaye's background as an economics student, that's probably no accident--but most of the time the emotional intensity wins. N'Diaye's Chicago debut is one of only four performances on his brief U.S. tour. Tuesday, July 31, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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