Youssou N’Dour: Musician, Politician, Activist

The Senegalese singer is returning to Adelaide to play WOMADelaide for the first time since 1992.

Youssou N’Dour, the prolific Grammy-winning artist, has been a professional musician all his life, since he first jumped on a stage when he was 12. Since then, he has grown into a world-renowned musician, and an especially popular artist across Africa. So much so that he is casually known as ‘the voice of Africa’. “I’m one of the voices of Africa,” N’Dour says. “There are many more here.” He says that African music has always been optimistic, even in the face of the political turbulence and ongoing crises across the continent. “The reality of Africa is that the societies are beautiful, and there is a lot of hope coming out of the music there.” On the subject of the broad genre that is world music, N’Dour doesn’t deny its relevance, championing its capacity to bring different cultures together.& “What we call ‘world music’ today comes from people workshopping together,” N’Dour says, highlighting the disparate traditions so often united in the genre. After all, his greatest hit in the western world was 7 Seconds, a collaboration with Swedish singer/songwriter Neneh Cherry. By sheer coincidence, Cherry will be playing WOMAD as well this year, and by even greater coincidence, on the same day as N’Dour (Sunday, March 8). “I didn’t know that! That’s amazing!” N’Dour says, pleased. Asked whether a reprisal of 7 Seconds was on the cards, N’Dour answers, “Definitely! I would love to!” N’Dour’s achievements do not stop in the artistic sphere. Aside from having acted in feature films, releasing more than 30 albums and collaborating with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Sting, N’Dour is a politician and activist. He was a presidential candidate in the Senegal elections of 2012, and subsequently served as the Minister for Tourism and Culture, then the Minister for Tourism and Leisure. As an activist, N’Dour has used his large public profile to raise money and awareness for multiple causes across Africa. In 1985 he organised a concert campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela, then in 1988 collaborated with Lou Reed on an Amnesty International world tour. He has taken part in three Live Aid concerts, and worked with the United Nations on Project Joko in an effort to open internet cafes across Africa and connect the Senegalese diaspora around the world. N’Dour is also an honoury member of the Fondation Chirac, alongside luminaries like Kofi Annan and Jean Chretien, which seeks to bring peace to the world through advocacy programs relating to deforestation, clean water supplies and medical access. N’Dour is as steadfast in his optimism for the successful development of African nations, as he is for how that development will be achieved. He firmly believes that help from rich world powers is needed to help African states grow, but that there must be consultation on how this help is given. “What we need now is to think about our development – we need more assistance. We are more than one billion people.” Likewise, N’Dour says that international organisations need to live up to their responsibilities and agreements in aiding African countries, since any variation from these plans can drastically affect the security and development of those states. “We need more prospects, and the world’s international institutions need to come through with their promises.” Like the extensive collaboration seen over the course of his own career, N’Dour says that co-operation is the quickest way forward for African nations. “If we work together, it could happen now.” WOMADelaide runs from Friday, March 6 to Monday, March 9 Youssou N’Dour performs on Sunday, March 8 at 9.30pm womadelaide.com.au

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