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BBC – Music – Review of Youssou N’Dour

Written by on October 23, 2020

Having retired from music in order to pursue his interest in politics earlier this year, it’s unlikely that fans of Senegal’s most famous musician will be treated to any new material in the near future. So this two-disc set stands as a tantalising offering, on paper. Will it represent a rewarding trawl through N’Dour’s embryonic yet essential creative period of the 80s?

Sadly, anyone anticipating a satisfying retrospective featuring the very best from this mercurial star’s back pages is likely to be disappointed. A straightforward best-of this is not, as its 80s Classics and Rarities subtitle goes some way to conveying the truth behind its 28 tracks: that much of N’Dour’s very best material emerged after the 80s had been and gone.

The first disc offers a short-on-highlights collection of N’Dour’s early material with Étoile de Dakar, which somehow overlooks any of the outfit’s appealingly mellow Afro-Cuban-flavoured fare. The lurching mbalax of Tabaski represents a standout cut, but much of disc 1 is fairly forgettable.

Naturally, no N’Dour collection could possibly omit his masterful breakthrough hit, Immigrés – Bitim Rew. And it’s present and correct on From Senegal to the World, lighting up the first few tracks of disc 2. Badou, from the same album Immigrés – recorded in 1984 but released internationally four years later, subsequently putting its maker on the global pop map – is also included.

As From Senegal… limits itself to predominantly 80s work, it contains none of N’Dour’s fruitful work as producer and mentor to the likes of Yandé Codou Sène, Aurelio Martinez and Cheikh Lô. N’Dour recorded a fine collaborative version of Set with the latter, on his 1996 debut Ne La Thiass – the version here, which opens disc two, dates from 1990 and doesn’t measure up to the snappier 96 take.

The reflective Diabaram, N’Dour’s 1990 collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, is an unexpected bonus of an inclusion; but mostly From Senegal… is a somewhat drab release, unlikely to stand out beside more complete N’Dour compilation sets.

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