Prom 65a: Youssou Ndour & Le Super Étoile de Dakar

“Senegalese cultural icon Youssou Ndour makes his Proms debut in a special late-night appearance. This largely acoustic performance spotlights Ndour’s characteristic soaring vocals and the smooth instrumental colours brought to life by his group Le Super Étoile de Dakar. For over 40 years Ndour has been thrilling audiences around the world with an eclectic mix of Cuban rumba, hip hop, jazz, soul and music of the West African griot tradition. In addition to his prodigious performing career – which has embraced more than 30 albums and a Grammy Award – he has also played a political role, having campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, performed at concerts for Amnesty International and served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.” [BBC Proms website]

Youssou Ndour & Le Super Étoile de Dakar, with Kali Kamga (vocalist)

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Jones

Reviewed: 31 August, 2018
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Youssou Ndour, Le Super Étoile de Dakar and guest vocalist Cali Kamga performing at Prom 65a as part of the BBC Proms 2018 at the Royal Albert HallPhotograph: Mark Allan / BBC“The king of African ballad music! You can dance! If you want to sing you can!” Thus Youssou Ndour was announced to us all by his faithful drummer bedecked in a custard-yellow tunic. Thus begun what was originally Prom 53 (August 21) on this year’s calendar.

Late-summer red lighting filled the Royal Albert Hall as Youssou opened his set with his signature sporty and sure vocals. His infectious joy of singing got the audience on its feet whilst his band of guitarists, drummers, keyboard-players and backing singers dance-hopped along.

Then came a star slot – the talking-drum-player Assane Thiam who spell-bounded the audience with his frenetic yet melodic drumming similar to human humming. The music was complemented by a folk-dancer, Alla Seck, who leapt and spun around like a showy cockerel and who popped up vigorously throughout the performance in a variety of lavish costumes.

Cuban Salsa was interwoven with mbalax rhythms for Youssou’s comic song ‘We Want the Money Money…’ followed by a breathtakingly beautiful flute intro by Alain Rodrigue Oyono who then switched to saxophone segueing into a virtuosic Fender guitar show: part-Little Richard, part-Jimi Hendrix. Under the surface of the instrumental music were the male and female backing- singer harmonies, 1960s’ Ronettes-style.

Throughout Youssou held us captive with an outstanding vocal range with more than enough power to be a match for the cavernous venue. There followed some of his greatest hits including ‘7 Seconds’ with Kali Kamga reprising Neneh Cherry’s vocals and ‘Set’ with its staccato percussion. Then Youssou announced ‘New Africa’ dedicated to the country of progress and riches; a solemn anthem.

This late-night Prom concluded with Senegal Rekk’ and ‘Be Happy’ with Youssou declaring “I am happy tonight, the band is happy tonight, be happy!” Youssou’s leonine voice, Seck’s virile dancing and the virtuosity of the band made it a glorious celebration.

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