Well known for his powerful tenor voice, singer and songwriter Youssou N’Dour has introduced audiences around the world to mbalax, a style of popular Senegalese music that mixes Wolof traditional instrumental and vocal forms with Cuban and other Latin American popular genres. Both an artist and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF (since 1991), N’Dour has long been a voice for conscience and change. He also served as Senegal’s minister for culture and tourism (2012–2013).

Raised in a family of griots [West African storytellers, singers and oral historians], N’Dour started singing at neighbourhood religious festivities when he was 12 years old. Four years later, he joined the Star Band de Dakar, which incorporated the Senegalese tama (talking drum) and Wolof and Malinke songs into their music and became pioneers of mbalax. In 1977, N’Dour and several other band members left the group to form Étoile de Dakar (renamed Super Étoile de Dakar in the early 1980s). Consistent with the griot tradition, their songs addressed prevailing social and political issues in Africa.

In the mid-1980s, Super Étoile de Dakar took mbalax to Europe and North America on concert tours. N’Dour sang on Peter Gabriel’s international hit In Your Eyes (1986) and toured with Gabriel as an opening act. In 1988, at the Human Rights Now! world tour, he played alongside Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman and Sting. He also wrote and performed the official anthem of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, La Cour des Grands.

Following the success of his solo album The Guide (Wommat) in 1984, N’Dour set up a recording studio, a record label and a media organisation in Senegal. In 2010, he added a television station to his media group.

He has released more than 20 albums, including The Lion (1989) and Eyes Open (1992), which was nominated for a Grammy Award. He also produced the music for the film Kirikou et la Sorcière, released by Studio Ghibli (2003).

N’Dour has received numerous international awards, including the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association (2017); Polar Music Prize, Sweden (2013); and Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards (2005) for Egypt (2004).

He received an honorary doctoral degree in music from Yale University (2011).

N’Dour was born in 1959 in Dakar, where he continues to live and work.

SAF participation:
Sharjah Biennial 15 Music Programme (2023)

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Youssou N’Dour

Sharjah Biennial 15 Music Programme

A series of concerts, performances and recitals, the music component of Sharjah Biennial 15, brings together six highly celebrated international artists and ensembles: Abdullah Ibrahim, Boubacar Traoré, Noura Mint Seymali, Tinariwen, and Youssou N’Dour.