60 Strategic Inauthenticity

Timothy D. Taylor


Youssou N'Dour: “A Modern Griot”

Youssou N'Dour (1959–) is one of a handful but growing number of nonwestern pop stars from the African continent born around or after the independence of their home-land. He is probably the biggest international nonwestern pop star appearing in this book and has been written about extensively by the US music press. N'Dour sings many of the typical stories of those who are trying to be subjects of modernity and not its objects: stories about the dangers of being overrun by tourism, the degradation of the environment, moving from the country to the city, and nostalgia for the ancestors and their wisdom. This modernization, however, in the form of the colonial machine, left N'Dour and his fellow Senegalese few options. The stories of modernization and colonialism/postcolonialism intersect time and again in his music, as, I have been arguing, they do in the “real world.”

N'Dour, like Rhoma Irama, expresses the desire to make a new popular music that incorporates elements of indigenous traditional musics and uses the local language. At the same time, N'Dour acknowledges the influence of musics from around the world on him. “It's just a natural process of evolution,” N'Dour says. “My style evolves depending on what other musics I've heard.” He explains his mix of musics and sounds in explicitly politico-historical terms.

The process of modernisation began relatively late in Senegambia. Ghana ...

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