By A. Scott Galloway, Contributing Writer
On the warm, Sunday evening of August 6 in Los Angeles, international superstar Youssou N’DOUR and his sprawling ensemble of musicians and singers (plus one sensational local dancer) delivered the pulsating heart and soul of Senegal, West Africa to the recently renovated John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, nestled in the scenic Hollywood Hills.
Arriving on his first stop in Southern California in over 6 years, N’DOUR was touring in support of his 34th and most recent recording, Africa Rekk (Africa and that’s final!). This recording marks his first in six years following highly honorable service as Minister of Tourism followed by Minister of Culture under President of the Republic of Senegal: Macky Sall. Once N’DOUR’s status shifted to Minister Advisor to the President, he was liberated to once again bring his soul-stirring messages of spiritual grace and love to fans around the globe.
By the second selection, N’DOUR had most of the multi-cultural audience on its feet, presenting a mild challenge to the ushers. However, once the star insisted that they chill out so everyone could feel free to dance, sing and fully participate as the spirit moved them; it became impossible for said house staff to keep the aisles clear of feverishly festive fans. Steeped in a river of rhythm from his 4-man percussion and drums section which anchored the crack 13-piece band, the music united the audience into a sea of joy…a combination of both jubilant and salacious feelings.
Melding the missives of his heart with the music of Mbalax (pronounced “em – bah – lah” – a traditional music of Senegal) with his pop crossover classic of conscience “7 Seconds” (made famous in a duet with Neneh Cherry but sung this night with Babacar FAYE), N’DOUR captivated the crowd for nearly two hours. Literally glowing, as bathed in the angelic spotlight, this mystic Baba also performed his two latest singles.
The first, “Serigne Fallou,” found him passing down a metaphorical torch of wisdom for the generation behind him. The second, “Be Careful,” delivered a message to young girls to be wary of insincere men and boys who would toy with their hearts. The contrast reflected concerns on his heart far-reaching from the spiritual to the more down-to-earth and practical.
Almost as riveting as NDOUR was his featured dancer, Moussa SONKO, a locally based master who changed colorful clothing ensembles several times to come down front from the drum section to engage in hyperkinetic movements across the stage and into the aisles. As documented by photo journalist E. Mesiyah McGinnis, at one point, SONKO suddenly leaped into the center aisle in a full swan dive, only to supernaturally adjust his spine, land on his feet and continue with his jubilant and spell-binding winding of arms and skyward leg kicks without missing a beat.
The crowd was so energized and spiritually lifted at the conclusion of N’DOUR’s set that after giving the ensemble a 5-minute standing ovation, the ensemble broke curfew and gave all the devoted fans who remained and had surged to the front seats, a rousing encore of two additional selections.
NDOUR does not tour often. Should L.A. be granted another visit, it is strongly suggested that lovers of uplifting uncut African music and dance – suitable for all ages and generations – make a special trip for this Senegalese experience in their own backyard.
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