Youssou N’Dour the Senegalese superstar and Grammy Award winner, is one of Africa’s most globally recognized musicians. Featured on the March 2012 front cover of Time® magazine where he was hailed as the “Voice of Protest,” the legendary music icon has also been described as “arguably the most important figure in world music” by the Guardian®.
The eldest of eight children, Youssou was born on October 1, 1959 in the Medina quarters of Dakar. His father was a garage mechanic from the Serer tribe, while his mother was a well-known griot (traditional praise singer) of Tukulor or Wolof descent – N’Dour has stressed that he is Wolof by the way. Growing up in the Medina, Youssou started entertaining at religious ceremonies from the age of 12 and was soon part of a local band called Diamono.
By the time he was 16, he was singing with Star Band the most popular group in Dakar of that time. He later left Star Band to create Etoile de Dakar, a tremendously successful group which was replaced by Super Etoile de Dakar following the departure of co-founding duo, El-Hadji Faye and Badou Ndiaye. With Super Etoile, Youssou’s stock as Senegal’s most revered performer climbed higher and the band was at that time the most popular in Africa.
Former Genesis singer, Peter Gabriel was impressed by Super Etoile when he saw their performance and he undertook he convinced N’Dour to lend his vocals to the song “In Your Eyes” from Gabriel’s 1986 So album. “In Your Eyes” was included on the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe the film, Say Anything, and became a big hit for Gabriel while N’Dour was unleashed on a wider international audience.
Alongside some other African music stars like Mariam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Hugh Masekela, Youssou went on tour with Paul Simon as a follow up to collaborating on Simon’s album, the widely acclaimed Graceland.
Youssou N’Dour has since collaborated with several international music stars across different genres of music which highlights his adaptability and musical dexterity. A man of many parts, he starred in the 2006 film Amazing Grace as Olaudah Equiano. He also starred as himself in Retour à Gorée in 2007.
His influence is not just limited to entertainment, but extends to the business world. Youssou opened his recording studio in 1991, and launched his record label, Jololi in 1995. His entrepreneurial nous has seen him acquire L’Observateur, the most widely circulated newspaper in Senegal, and he is also the owner of a media outfit comprising of Radio Future Medias (RFM) and its TV counterpart TFM, as well as a famous nightclub in Dakar, Thiossane where he regularly performs.
Youssou became very active in Senegalese politics and opposed former president Wade who he was a staunch supporter of over the latter’s third term bid. He even indicated interest in vying for the highest office, but was disqualified by a court for lack of valid signatures. He was however appointed Minister for Culture and Tourism in 2012.
Since 2006, Youssou N’Dour has been married to Aida Coulibaly with whom he has two daughters. He has at present eight children. Four from a previous marriage, with the remaining two from different women before his first marriage. Aida presently runs the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
Afro Tourism salutes this African icon and extraordinary musician, who rose from being the son of an ordinary mechanic to become a world acclaimed superstar: Youssou Madjiguène N’Dour.
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Did You Know?
- Youssou N’Dour was born on October 1st 1959, a year before Nigeria’s Independence in 1960.
- His father’s name is Elimane N’Dour, while his mother’s was Ndeye Sokhna Mboup.
- Although his father is Serer, Youssou has always maintained he is a Wolof; his mother tribe.
- He did not receive formal education, even though his father wanted him to study law or medicine.
- He was nicknamed Le Petit Prince de Dakar (Little Prince of Dakar) for his singing skills as a teenager.
- Peter Gabriel described N’Dour’s voice as “…liquid gold…” when he heard him in Paris…
- In 1988, he was part of Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” tour with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Sting, and Gabriel.
- Youssou is a singer, songwriter, composer and drummer. He played the drums on Paul Simon’s Graceland
- He contributed a song to Viva Mandela, a video music project in 1990 and performed at a concert held at Wembley Arena in London in honor of the South African icon, Nelson Mandela.
- The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) made him a Goodwill ambassador in 1992.
- He composed and performed the official song “La Cours des Grands” for the France ‘98 FIFA World Cup with Axelle Red.
- He became Goodwill ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on October 16, 2000.
- In 2005, Youssou won a Grammy for his album, Egypt.
- He was listed number 2 (among artists and entertainers) on the 2007 Time 100 (list of 100 men and women transforming the world with their talent, power, or moral example).
- He graced the front cover of Time Magazine for their March 2012 edition.
- Peter Gabriel is godfather to one of Youssou’s sons, while he also is godfather to one of Gabriel’s children.