Youssou N`dour is a unique phenomenon in modern music. And the opinion that modern western consumers have about him is not right. The exorbitant success of "7 Seconds"/w Neneh Cherry and collaboration with Peter Gabriel gave him a fame of a professional back-vocalist, peculiar "traditional pop-music" with ethnical salt. (As a rule nobody pays special attention to the text especially if it's performed in an unknown Wolof language.)
Western producers usually incline to start with simple things (cut out or make softer everything that is unusual), to distil sound and to use the temporary band consisting of typical studio professionals who can't improvise themselves. The album "The Lion/Gaiende" which I'm going to speak on is the victim of such an approach though it's worth it. But a snobbish pejorative attitude of the critics to this album seems to me injust too. I might be partial `cause my love for Youssou N`dour, and "ethno-music" in general, started with this recording.
But I'd like to mention...
The album is uneven and it's hard to listen to the whole of it. Psychologically, the most important central part is given two rather colorless westernized pop-songs - "The Truth" and "Old Tucson". The more interesting versions are "Bes" and "Sama Doom (My Daughter)". The latter - a fusion of American jazz (that is David Sancious's saxophone solo efficiently dubbed into the texture) and mbalax style created by Youssou and other modern Senegal musicians efforts - was performed with sincere warmth. Remix of Peter Gabriel's famous "Shakin` The Tree"/w author appeared for two reasons: the producer` wish to bind a unknown singer with a star and Youssou N`dour's acknowledgement to Peter Gabriel who did his best to popularize modern ethnical music (DIEURE DIEUF Peter Gabriel).
"The Lion/Gaiende" and "Kocc Barma" are two examples of pure mbalax with wonderfully recorded tama (a talking drum), and sabar-drum rhythm tracks. "The Lion" at that is the perfect composition for studying and explaining the musical basic of the style and the acoustic role of separate instruments.
And now for real masterpieces of that album - Bamako and Macoy...
The first song is a hard-felt story over a fleeting meeting with a girl in Bamako. Overdubbing of vocal tracks is fantastic.
Macoy - powerful ethno-hymn with all the style components in western understanding: the wall of synthesized sound, endless overdubbing, female choir and arrangement influenced by Peter Gabriel. The way Youssou N`dour makes of his voice out of this set is unbelievable. The song gains a certain depth, definite pain and passion.
These songs still leave in your heart which, in fact, is main reason for listening to music.