There’s a relentless insistence to the Senegalese mbalax rhythms that carry Youssou N’Dour’s music, and even though most of its hard edges have become smoother over the years, that drive remains. N’Dour’s vocals used to attack a song with that same insistence, but that approach has also undergone a smoothing-out process. His current style utilizes a much narrower vocal range than the soaring, keening tones that once identified him. While it’s too bad that he no longer sounds as though he’s calling prayers from atop a minaret, he’s managed to cop a popish profile that is still pleasing. What haven’t changed are the social and spiritual concerns of his lyrics. Although he has approached pop, there’s nothing so banal as a love song here. He comes close on “Miss” with “Let me say it at least once before I die: Women are beautiful. Let me say it twice, then I can die.” But mostly his concerns stay with the community, such as on “Beykat” where he sings, “Here is the peasant … bear witness to his courage.” It takes a few tunes before the recording really takes off, but it’s cooking by the fourth cut of 11. And N’Dour keeps things friendly by mixing English in with the Wolof lyrics. Overall, this outing is probably more radio-friendly for American audiences, but lacks the fire and urgency of his earlier work.
Larry Gabriel is the Metro Times editor. E-mail [email protected].