Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour lights up Millennium Park with the most beloved voice in Africa | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour lights up Millennium Park with the most beloved voice in Africa

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Of the dozens of shows I’ll see this summer, I’ve looked forward most to this outdoor concert by Senegalese national hero Youssou N’Dour. Born in 1959 to a griot mother and a car mechanic father, he began singing publicly at age 12 and has since become the most beloved voice in Africa. As a teenager in the mid-70s, he joined Dakar’s biggest group, the Star Band, formed in 1960 to celebrate Senegal’s independence. In 1979 N’Dour drew on that lineup to form Étoile de Dakar, and since relocating to Paris in 1983—already an international star—he’s been calling his regular band Super Étoile de Dakar. These groups helped shape and popularize mbalax, Senegal’s distinctive urban pop style. It incorporates Congolese soukous, Cuban dance music, and American soul, rock, and R&B, among other influences, but its signature sound comes from traditional Senegalese percussion—a battery of sabar drums (usually played with one stick and one open hand) and talking drums that gallops and tumbles in an effervescent froth. N’Dour’s clear, supple tenor elevates this already wonderful music into the realm of the supernatural. He switches among Wolof, French, and English, and no matter his subject—avuncular advice to young lovers, a humane and rounded portrait of his Islamic faith, the need to help the displaced, hungry, and poor—he sounds like he’s been embraced by an archangel and commanded to sing. N’Dour’s most recent stateside release, 2010’s Dakar-Kingston, attempts an ill-advised reggae fusion, but he’s put out several albums since: 2016’s Africa Rekk uses pan-African pop collaborations with younger artists to shore up his bona fides with the kids, and 2017’s Seeni Valeurs returns to the sort of sunny, buoyant mbalax that I can’t wait to see light up Millennium Park. N’Dour is so radiantly charismatic onstage you feel like you ought to be watching him through eclipse glasses.   v

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