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Senegal's biggest star trades music for politics

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-01-03

World-renowned Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour is now a candidate in his country’s forthcoming presidential election. He will be hoping the fame and fortune found abroad can help usher him into power at home.

Senegalese music icon Youssou N’Dour, an internationally-revered Grammy winner, has announced he will run in his country’s forthcoming presidential election. Known for his fusion of African rhythms and pop music, as well as his tireless advocacy for social causes, N’Dour will now challenge the incumbent president’s controversial bid for a third term in office.

N’Dour, 52, announced that he was entering politics after carefully considering requests to join the presidential race by supporters. "I have listened, I have heard, and I am responding favourably," N’Dour said on Monday on his privately-owned television station in Dakar.

There has been much controversy over whether President Abdoulaye Wade, 85, has exhausted a constitutional two-term limit, and the incumbent has angered opposition and civil society groups by declaring he will once more be a candidate in the February 26 poll. Wade was first elected to a seven-year term in 2000, then re-elected in 2007 for five more years in office following a constitutional reform.

According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Tatiana Mossot, N'Dour’s popularity is not in question in his home country, but the acclaimed singer will still have to prove he can be a credible politician before he can win an election.

Taking the global stage

Speculation about N’Dour’s candidacy brewed for weeks after the singer announced during a concert in November that he would stop performing to focus on his new political movement, Fekke ma ci bolle or “I am involved”.

N’Dour is known for using the musical stage to support political and social causes, but his bid for Senegal’s highest political office was an unprecedented step away from his singing career.

Born in 1959 to a modest and devout Muslim family in the city of Dakar, N’Dour was identified as a natural performer at the age of 13 and secured his first singing contract thee years later. He gained domestic recognition at the head of two Senegalese bands, Etoile de Dakar and the Super Etoile. However, an appearance in British singer Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album “So” set him on the path to international stardom.

In 1988, N’Dour performed alongside international music stars Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Tracy Champan for the “Human Rights Now!” tour that raised money for Amnesty International.

Since then he has headlined three Live 8 African benefit concerts, the 2005 pan-African United Against Malaria concert, a 2008 show in Mali to raise funds for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and most recently, the 2010 Day of Peace concert in Paris.

A prolific music composer, he has released 27 albums in the past 28 years. N’Dour’s artistic creations include an African opera which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1993 and the official anthem of the 2008 FIFA World Cup. In 2005, his deeply religious album “Egypt” won the Grammy Award for best contemporary world music.

‘Above’ politics as usual?

N’Dour has also proven to be a skillful entrepreneur. He opened his own recording studio in 1991 and, in 1995, launched his own record label, Jololi. He also owns one of Senegal’s most widely-circulated newspapers, L'Observateur, and the radio and television Future Medias stations in Dakar.

His media companies have often been critical of President Wade's government, and have already been put to the service of N’Dour’s campaign. But the advantages of fame and communication outlets may not guarantee victory for the artist turned politician.

According to French journalist Pierre Prier, N’Dour may face the obstacle of entrenched social divisions in Senegal. The singer was born into the griot caste, members of which traditionally have not held political posts. “Often denied to foreigners, [the cast system] nevertheless weighs on [Senegal’s] social and political life,” Prier wrote in the French newspaper Le Figaro.

For decades N’Dour has acted as an ambassador for his country and shifted the boundaries of African music. Senegal’s elections will show if his own countrymen will allow him to shift the political boundaries at home.

Date created : 2012-01-03


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