Fri, 26 April 19
Released 16 October 2015
October, 1987. An open-air amphitheatre cut into a mountain overlooking the twinkling sprawl of nighttime Athens. Thousands of people are going crazy for a young Senegalese singer they’d never heard of until moments before, when headline act Peter Gabriel walked onstage and introduced him.
“You are about to see a remarkable group of musicians, playing some of my favourite music,” declared Gabriel, whose epic So tour was drawing to a close after months on the road. “I ask you to give them a warm reception and a good listen: Youssou N’Dour et Le Super Etoile de Dakar!”
N’Dour, who’d just turned 28, was already a big star in West Africa. His voice, curling out across the auditorium and over the Athens neighbourhoods below, showed why. High-pitched and melismatic, laced with power and emotion, it drew gasps of disbelief and just as swiftly, roars of approval. This remarkable voice was accompanied by the riotous mbalax rhythms of his musicians, seasoned players on everything from horns, guitars and keyboards to the traditional sabar, jdembe and tama talking drum.
Here, then, making its long-awaited debut as an audio release, is N’Dour’s opening set from that legendary Live in Athens show, as performed by an act on the cusp of Western stardom. An act that had transformed Senegalese music by playing traditional rhythms on electric instruments, fronted by a singer whose charisma, multi-talents and social conscience would eventually see him acknowledged as one of the most celebrated African musicians in history.
“I first saw Youssou play in 1980 in Paris, in a very hot tent, for a Senegalese audience,” remembers Gabriel. “I was blown away by the music, the rhythms and one of the most extraordinary voices I’d ever heard, which I thought at the time was like liquid gold.”
The set starts with ‘Immigres’, with its chattering talking drum wielded by Assane Thiam and lyrics telling of the difficulties facing the African diaspora; the rollicking ‘Kocc Barma’, composed with Super Etoile musical director and bassist Habib Faye, brought entire stadiums to their feet; ‘Nelson Mandela’, a call-and-response-style anthem praising – and raising awareness of – the incarcerated anti-apartheid activist; the fiercely upbeat crowd-pleaser ‘Ndobine’; and ‘Sama Dom’, a jazzy, polyrhythmic ode to N’Dour’s young daughter. The bonus track comes from Gabriel’s set, where he is joined onstage by N’Dour and members of Le Super Etoile to perform ‘In Your Eyes’.
Gabriel had become a frequent visitor to Dakar and in 1985, he invited N’Dour to his studio in Bath where he was recording the album So. N’Dour stayed for three days and laid down the stunning Wolof vocals that feature on the chorus of ‘In Your Eyes’, which went on to become the emotional, smash-hit single that would boost both men’s international careers.
The worldwide success of the So album, and the ensuing So tour of Europe and America, confirmed Gabriel’s place in rock’s pantheon of greats. His shows were moving, uplifting, political and precedent-setting – as indeed, were those of his support act.
“We started the tour in New York in November 1986,” recalls N’Dour. “I was nervous, even though I was used to playing to large audiences back home. But after Peter came onstage and explained to the public who we were, we were made to feel so welcome. He did that every night, before every concert. His generosity was touching.”
United by their social concerns, connected by their creativity, it was little wonder, really, that Gabriel and N’Dour became longtime friends and colleagues. In 2014, Peter Gabriel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Twenty seven years after that remarkable So tour, the artist he invited to accompany him in the Induction Ceremony, to sing with him on ‘In Your Eyes’, was a Grammy-winning singer and composer, entrepreneur and elder statesman, African icon and international superstar. The mighty Youssou N’Dour.
Released 13 March 1995
Released 10 September 1990
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