Youssou N'Dour

Often described as one of the most popular singers in Africa, Youssou N’Dour played an important role in the popularization and secularization of Senegalese music in the late twentieth century. Born in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, in 1959, N’Dour and his family were Sufi Muslims. He was taught traditional singing at an early age by his griot mother. He had begun singing at local festivals by age twelve and in his early teens would play with a band outside clubs that he was too young to enter legally. At sixteen he joined the house band of Dakar’s Miami Club, the Star Band, which was founded in 1960 to celebrate independence. With its mix of traditional musical forms, Latin music, and pop, the Star Band created a genre of music eventually known as mbalax. Out of the Star Band was formed Étoile de Dakar, led by N’Dour. His position as bandleader played a major role in his development into a star singer. Before relocating to Paris in 1983, effectively ending the group, N’Dour recorded a song for the Island Records compilation Sound D’Afrique, which helped bring African music to the attention of Western audiences, in 1981. His re-formed group, Super Étoile de Dakar, made its European and North American debuts in 1984 and 1985 respectively, which brought N’Dour to the attention of many prominent artists, including Paul Simon, who recorded N’Dour’s vocals for part of his Graceland (1986) project. N’Dour used his position to advocate for the release of Nelson Mandela and bring attention to various issues within Africa. Also a businessman, N’Dour opened his first recording studio in 1991 and his first label in 1995. He sporadically acted in films through the 2000s and in 2012 became Senegal’s Minister of Tourism.