7 Seconds: The Best of Youssou N'Dour
First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2004, Volume 11, #5
Written by John Metzger
As leader of Super Etoile de Dakar, vocalist Youssou NíDour pioneered the mbalax style, which blends traditional Senegalese and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and places them within a pop music context. As luck would have it, his rise in popularity in the West occurred just as Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon were looking for something new and different to spring upon their fans, and NíDourís unique creation provided the answer. Though he added percussion throughout Simonís Graceland, it was his soaring vocals on Gabrielís hit single In Your Eyes that thrust him into the spotlight and secured him a headlining slot on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour in 1988.
Commercially speaking, NíDour has had a remarkably accomplished career, considering heís a world music performer who typically sings in his native Wolof tongue. His success largely has been predicated on the fact that, much like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, heís found ways of merging the sounds of his homeland with Western styles, employing jazz, R&B, and pop as a means for making his songs both exotic and accessible. Likewise, his lyrics run the gamut from universal tales of love to socio-political commentaries, and each is delivered with his distinctively emotive and sinuous vocal expressions.
Although the recently released 7 Seconds: The Best of Youssou NíDour might not be the most comprehensive collection of NíDourís material, it does offer an insightful glimpse of an artist trying to find some balance between the disparate forces that have impacted the past twelve years of his career. There are moments ó such as his duet with Neneh Cherry on the relatively straightforward R&B ballad 7 Seconds as well as the drab, keyboard-heavy Without a Smile, which falls flat despite the fluttering flights of saxophonist Branford Marsalis ó when heís tried too hard to fit within the framework of Western culture. On the other hand, his most stunning accomplishments have come on tracks like New Africa and Set when heís simply allowed his voice to fly freely over burbling, percussive grooves that poke and prod his songs to a percolating frenzy. Also of interest is NíDourís spirited reworking of The Beatlesí Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; the gentle, acoustic No More; and ebullient Oh Boy. Over the course of its 16 tracks, however, 7 Seconds: The Best of Youssou NíDour winds up falling prey to the same problems that have plagued his other outings. That is: itís extraordinarily frustrating to hear the power of NíDourís music shine brightly on some tunes, only to witness him homogenize the rest for wider appeal.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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