Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N'Dour to perform at SingJazz

Senegal singer Youssou N'Dour will perform with his band, Super Etoile de Dakar, at SingJazz on April 1.
Senegal singer Youssou N'Dour will perform with his band, Super Etoile de Dakar, at SingJazz on April 1.PHOTO: SINGJAZZ

Pop music fans might remember Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour from 1994's global hit 7 Seconds, a duet he did with Swedish singer Neneh Cherry.

What they might not know is that he is also a politician who once ran for president. He did not win the election, but from 2012 to 2013, he was Senegal's minister of tourism and culture, and later, minister of tourism and leisure.

He then returned to music and will be in Singapore to perform at next year's Singapore International Jazz Festival (SingJazz) at Marina Bay Sands.

The fourth edition of the festival will take place from March 31 to April 2 and N'Dour and his band, Super Etoile de Dakar, will perform on the second night.

Other acts in the festival include Grammy award-winning British singer Corinne Bailey Rae, American hitmaker David Foster, British acid-jazz pioneers Incognito and electronic music duo Basement Jaxx.

And while N'Dour - once dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine as Africa's most famous singer alive - is entertaining audiences worldwide again, he is still very much involved in politics back home.

In a telephone interview from Senegal, the 57-year-old tells The Straits Times: "I am no longer minister of culture, but I am a minister advising the president."

He is intent on using his experience and connections to help his country, he adds, but is still in love with making music.

"When I started in politics in the department of tourism and culture, it was difficult to do the two things together," the singer, who last performed in Singapore at music festival Womad in 2007, says of juggling politics with music. "One is a function, one is a passion."

Having more time to devote to music in the past few years meant he could focus on coming up with new songs.

He released three albums in the last two years, Fatteliku in 2014 and #Senegaal Rek and Africa Rekk, his 33rd and 34th album respectively, this year.

Born in Senegal's capital, Dakar, he started out in music as a teenager, singing with Star Band, a popular group playing Afro-Cuban music.

In 1979, he formed his own band, Etoile de Dakar, which later became known as Super Etoile de Dakar.

N'Dour would go on to make his name with a unique sound that mixes a Senegalese genre, mbalax, with Western genres such as jazz and soul.

His popularity outside Africa grew through collaborations and tours with many Western musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Sting and Bruce Springsteen, but his collaboration with Cherry stands as his most popular song to date.

In 2005, his album, Egypt, won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album.

So, will he run for president again?

"I am not interested to be president. I was running because I wanted to help (my country)," he says. "I'm behind the current president, Mr Macky Sall. He's going to run in 2019 and I'm going to support him."

SingJazz's artistic director David Smith welcomes the fact that the festival overlaps with another major music event that will take place the same time - British band Coldplay's two sold-out shows at the National Stadium on March 31 and April 1.

Describing the weekend as a "music bonanza", he says in a statement that having SingJazz and Coldplay on the same days "reinforces Singapore's position as a key destination for music and the arts".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'Youssou N'Dour to perform at SingJazz'. Print Edition | Subscribe