Last Thursday, December 6, the United Nations formally released the new album We Are the Drums of Africa in Dakar, Senegal. Featuring 11 songs in 10 languages by 37 all-star African musicians, the release is part of a campaign to eliminate the transmission of HIV and work towards an AIDS-free generation on the continent by 2015. These performers include Cheb Mami of Algeria, Cesaria Evora of Cape Verde, Manu Dibango of Cameroon, and Didier Awadi and Youssou N'Dour of Senegal.
That same night in Madison, the Wisconsin Union Theater was bouncing to the beat of mbalax, the popular dance music fusing the West African nation's traditional sabar drumming with Western pop genres. And the star of the show was none other than Youssou N'Dour, the Godfather of this globalizing music and one of the best-known and respected singers on the planet. Essential in developing the sound of mbalax in the 1970s, N'Dour has since become an icon of African culture, working on everything from performing "In Your Eyes" with Peter Gabriel to composing the official anthem of the 1998 FIFA World Cup to portraying the African-British abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the 2006 film Amazing Grace. N'Dour has also performed at concerts benefiting Amnesty International, UNICEF, Live 8, and as with this new album, the UN.
N'Dour is currently touring the U.S. in support of his own release Rokku Mi Rokka. "There's some utter groove on this disc," wrote Susan Kepecs in a preview of the concert in Madison. "My standout picks include 'Dabbaax,' a silky Sahel blues, and the lush and funky Arabic-edged 'Lett Ma.'"
The sliver of standing space between the stage and first row at the Union Theater was filled with dancers moving happily to the music of N'Dour and his band last week. A couple of fans shot a number of short videos of the performance. The first clip and more than a dozen others follow.
The fan capturing this first video shot seven others (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) of brief length capturing the mbalax maestro in action. Five more short videos of the show (here, here, here, here, and here) were also captured by the Onalaska-based website AllGambian.net. Finally, a third concert attendee shot a pair of videos (here and here) featuring a sabar drum solo and accompanying dance. "I loved every second!" declared the fan. "It was a great show!"
The new album featuring N'Dour and fellow African musicians, meanwhile, is being distributed for free to radio and television broadcasters across Africa.