Youssou Ndour

A Cultural Icon and Leader in Social Advocacy

by Mamarame Seck (Author)
©2020 Monographs XX, 158 Pages


This book is about Senegalese Pop star Youssou Ndour, also known as the king of mbalax music. The word mbalax was the name given to a specific drumming beat. Today, it is used to name a musical genre played by Wolof and Serer percussionists to entertain people at almost every family event such as naming and wedding ceremonies, storytelling, dances, and others, generally held by Senegalese women. Almost all social and family events are, or can be, musicalized in Senegal: there is music for every social gathering and mbalax is the music genre that most often accompanies such events. Mbalax music groups mix sabar instruments, which include the cóol, làmb, ndënd, mbëŋ-mbëŋ, ndeer, tuŋune, and tama, also known as "talking drum," with modern elements such as electric and bass guitars, trumpets and keyboards.
Ndour has substantially contributed to the popularity of mbalax music throughout the world. The book retraces the artist’s early career and life-changing events and encounters, song repertoire themes and hits, conquest of the international scene and years of glory and international recognition, interests in media and television businesses, activism and political engagement of one among the one hundred most influential personalities of the world, according to Time magazine in 2007. The author analyzes Ndour’s philosophical stance, religious beliefs, and wisdom through analysis of his rich song repertoire.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One Youssou Ndour, the Child of Medina
  • The Impact of Family Origins on Youssou Ndour’s Musical Career
  • Medina and Youssou Ndour’s Debuts in Music
  • The Key to Success
  • References
  • Chapter Two The Genesis of a New Musical Genre: The Mbalax
  • The Mbalax: Definition and Overview
  • The Super Etoile de Dakar: History and People, and Secret of a Longevity
  • Youssou Ndour’s Generations
  • References
  • Chapter Three Themes and Hits of Youssou Ndour’s Song Repertoire
  • Song Repertoire Themes
  • Selected Hits
  • References
  • Chapter Four Youssou Ndour: A Griot Sufi Poet?
  • Sufism in Senegal
  • Sufi Poetry in Senegal
  • Sufism in Youssou Ndour’s Poetry and Music
  • References
  • Chapter Five The Years of Glory and International Recognition
  • Youssou Ndour and Europe
  • World Music Awards and Recognitions
  • References
  • Chapter Six Youssou Ndour Beyond Music
  • Senegalese Politics: From Its Origins to Date
  • Senegal: The Challenge of a Secular State
  • References
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix A Testimonies
  • Appendix B Selected Songs with English Translations

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The seeds of this book come from a traditional literary practice found in many countries of the world: Youssou was in his fifties and, given his high social and artistic standing both in Senegal, his home country, and internationally, in particular in Europe, it is appropriate that a book be written about him and his life, and his contributions. Ndour found an author for this book—Mamarame Seck—in his community in Dakar, Senegal; he authorized Seck to take on the task of writing an appropriate biography of his life, incorporating rich details of Ndour’s many involvements both locally in Senegal and internationally. Seck couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

It is Youssou Ndour’s popularity in the growing African diaspora in the United States that led to my involvement in the development of this biography. But my connection with Mamarame came earlier, in the 2000s. Mamarame enrolled as a doctoral student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Florida where we discovered each other. That led to Mamarame asking me to be on his dissertation committee. The research for his doctorate focused on Sufi narrative discourse in Wolof that reflects the cultural practices of West Africa.

As linguists, specifically sociolinguists, whose approaches to language analysis overlap, we had many opportunities to interact in a department where there were few others—staff or students—who knew anything about discourse analysis. Mamarame and a couple of other international doctoral students formed a ←xiii | xiv→discourse analysis weekly seminar with me, solidifying connections beyond the required course work. Moreover, Mamarame and I are both non-native, but educated speakers of French, with degrees from Francophone universities and periods of residence abroad in French speaking countries. In addition to all of these professional features that we had in common, we share interests in the music of Africa and of all the variations and fusions that have emerged from the centuries’ old sea and now cyber traffic between West Africa and the Caribbean. Just as human linguistic communication is awash with intercultural themes and ways of speaking that get embedded in daily forms of discourse, Ndour’s music incorporates a rich mix of indigenous themes, instruments, and rhythms.

In particular, Ndour has contributed to the genesis of the new musical genre, mbalax, combining traditional Wolof instrumental and vocal forms with Cuban and Latin American popular input. He incorporated the Senegalese tama or “talking drum” into mbalax as well as many other indigenous instruments. Further, as a descendent of the griot tradition and, given his adherence to the Sufi Muslim practices, Ndour has infused Sufi poetry and music into his musical repertoire. Clearly, Youssou Ndour’s contributions to the contemporary music world are unique, dynamic, and influential in representing modern Africa.

Several years after completing his dissertation and having taught African languages and linguistics in the United States, back in Senegal, Mamarame contacted me about editing and proofreading his manuscript about Youssou Ndour. At that same time, I found myself living in Washington, D.C. where I could go to Ndour’s concerts at venues in the D.C. area. I also discovered the developing African diaspora in this city, where members of that community joke about D.C. having become an “African” city. In addition, Mamarame decided, on my advisement, to invite a former colleague of mine who shares a deep interest in contemporary music, American country as well as international contributions. Steve and I would function as “sounding boards,” reacting to drafts of the manuscript that Seck would send us, suggesting changes in the language and organization that would come up in creating the manuscript.

From his discourse analysis background and interest in the Wolof language, Mamarame looks at Ndour’s prolific corpus of Wolof songs. What he has created is a biography of Youssou Ndour that weaves together several important threads of Ndour’s life: his childhood upbringing in Medina, a suburb of Dakar: his decision to become a musician against his father’s wishes: and the influences from his mother and grandmother on his life. From that childhood period, Ndour’s musical career grew, involving him not only in developing his expertise as a musician but also his life-long interests in creating bands and supporting other musicians, as well as including indigenous African rhythms, instruments, and themes into his ←xiv | xv→songs. Ndour has a strong sense of duty regarding the betterment of his fellow citizens of Senegal, providing jobs and opportunities whenever possible. Along those lines of personal engagement, Ndour assumed the role of being, at first, an unofficial ambassador for his country and its people in the international music world. Currently, he is Minister-Counselor of Senegal’s President, Mack Sall.

Highlights of Seck’s volume hopefully encourage readers to delve further into Ndour’s life and his contributions. Seck interweaves in each chapter song lyrics to flesh out points about Ndour’s beliefs and stances concerning such topics as Sufism, the role of women, and praise-singing. The song lyrics are in Wolof with English translations. Appendices that include Testimonies of his colleagues and a collection of Ndour’s songs add to the uniqueness of this much needed overview of the life of Youssou Ndour.

Virginia LoCastro
Washington, D.C.

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XX, 158
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XX, 158 pp., 10 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Mamarame Seck (Author)

Mamarame Seck received his PhD in linguistics from the University of Florida, Gainesville. He currently works at IFAN, at Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, Senegal. He published his first book, Narratives as Muslim Practice in Senegal, with Peter Lang in 2012.


Title: Youssou Ndour
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