Youssou N'Dour Rokku Mi Rokku Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Youssou gives us a needlessly Westernised offering...

Tim Nelson 2007

Youssou N'Dour is a genuine African superstar, and probably one of the first artists people name when they think of world music. That Peter Gabriel hit. That Neneh Cherry hit. And maybe that’s the problem, because if, to paraphrase Manu Chao, world music is a bastardized term, betraying anglocentric sensibilities, then isn't there precisely a problem with Youssou N'Dour's seemingly endless bid to conquer the Western pop charts? His 2004 album, Egypt, seemed to wrongfoot these long-standing issues, by combining Senegalese harmony and Arabic orchestral pop arrangements into a celebration of Sufism, but if Rokku Mi Rokka sometimes lives up to its promise of celebrating Senegal’s diversity, it also provides more ammunition for the worrying proposition that N'Dour might be something of a Senegalese Mick Hucknall, with all the moves and none of the soul.

It's particularly unfortunate that the main offenders are the opening and closing track (the infantile "4-4-44" and the clunking "Wake Up (It's Africa Calling)", a feeble retread of "7 Seconds" that even features Neneh Cherry) because a lot of the music in between is very good. The inclusion of Bassekou Kouyate, the ngoni player from Mali, invests the proceedings with a lighter, airy feel, most notably on "Dabbaax" and "Sama Gammu" which also features the new singer Ousmane Kangue. Elsewhere, Orchestra Baobab sing on "Xel" and "Bay Faal" adds an urban edge to the sounds of the north country, with electric guitar and strings. It's when N’Dour is at his most adventurous and experimental that the album is most successful, although the return to his trademark mbalax rhythms on "Baijan" has its charms too. Its just a shame that the final memories we are left with are "Africa Calling", over-production and a pointless guest spot. On the evidence of this album, Youssou needs to stop trying to cross over and let us come to him.

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