Prom 65a: Youssou N’Dour & Le Super Étoile de Dakar review – joyous spirit

Royal Albert Hall, London
The king of African pop and his pioneering band bring slick, infectious Senegalese rhythms to their sparkling late-night Prom

Étoile de Dakar rose from the vibrant late-70s nightclub scene of Senegal’s capital city, via seminal local outfit the Star Band. It was youthful frontman Youssou N’Dour who transformed them into Le Super Étoile; by the early 80s, this act’s pioneering sound – percussion-heavy mbalax with Latin influences and socially conscious Wolof-language lyrics – was going global. Decades on, N’Dour is a prolific world-class superstar, spanning vast cultural and political realms.

There is something disarming about watching him bound on stage for tonight’s (aptly late-night) Proms set with Super Étoile; N’Dour seems part everyman, part supreme showman.

Super Étoile’s 14-piece lineup pack out the stage (two keyboardists, four guitarists, sax/flute, masses of beats) and fire up assuredly big melodies. When N’Dour sings, the effect is both sweetly familiar and startling; his powerfully emotive tones echo his griot heritage, but they also seal his modern status as “the king of African pop”. He responds to a global mainstream while retaining grassroots cred, and the anthemic Immigrés (from his 1984 crossover album) is an immediate stand-out tonight. The set does feel studiously slick, including spotlight flourishes from long-time bandmate Assane Thiam (on talking drums) and acrobatic dancer Moussa Sonko. Yet N’Dour radiates infectious feelgood energy, and the audience slips joyously into the arm-waving, singalong spirit.

There’s a rousing rendition of trilingual 1994 megahit (originally with Neneh Cherry) 7 Seconds, and snappy material from his 2016 album Africa Rekk. The set-list could certainly have dug much deeper into Super Étoile’s rich history, but even the encore cover of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song is a chance for N’Dour’s world-shaking pop prowess to sparkle.


Arwa Haider

The GuardianTramp

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