Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Youssou N'Dour: Rokku Mi Rokka

Mark Jenkins reviews Youssou N'Dour's "Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take)".
The greatest contemporary singer from Senegal and possibly all of Africa, Youssou N'Dour travels the world with and in his music. He has collaborated widely with the likes of Sting, Peter Gabriel and Neneh Cherry, who appeared on "7 Seconds," a 1994 European hit. Yet N'Dour's most interesting ventures mesh Senegalese styles not with Anglo-American pop, but with other African music. Cherry returns for N'Dour's new "Rokku Mi Rokka," rapping and singing on the disappointing "Wake Up (It's Africa Calling)." But that attempt at crossover is an anomaly on an album that draws mostly from a closer source.

N'Dour's marvelous previous set revealed its inspiration in its title, "Egypt." On "Rokku Mi Rokka," which translates as "give and take," the singer-songwriter supplements his usual crew with players from nearby Mali.

Aside from "4-4-44," a simplistic tune that adds a horn section, and "Wake Up," the album's sound is intricate, indigenous and characteristically exhilarating. This isn't folk music: The five numbers featuring Mali's Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni (a West African lute also called the xalam) are spare and more traditional, but such exuberant songs as "Pullo Ardo" and "Baay Faal" include synthesizers and strings. While both modes succeed, the most striking selections are such Kouyate-driven ones as "Dabbaax," which have an ease that's rare in N'Dour's work yet suit his supple high tenor.

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