Youssou N’Dour (French pronunciation: [jusu (ɛ)nduʁ]; also known as Youssou Madjiguéne Ndour, born 1 October 1959) is a Senegalese singer, songwriter, composer, occasional actor, businessman, and politician. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine described him as, “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and much of Africa. From April 2012 to September 2013, he was Senegal’s Minister of Tourism.
Youssou N’Dour helped develop a style of popular Senegalese music known by all Senegambians (including the Wolof) as mbalax, a genre that has sacred origins in the Serer music njuup tradition and ndut initiation ceremonies. He is the subject of the award-winning films Return to Gorée (2007) directed by Pierre-Yves Borgeaud and Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (2008) directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, which were released around the world.
Ethnically, N’Dour is Serer, born to a Serer father and a Toucouleur mother. However, culturally, N’Dour is Wolof. He was born in Dakar. He started performing at age 12 and was performing regularly with the Star Band, Dakar’s most popular group during the early 1970s.
Despite N’Dour’s maternal connection to the traditional griot caste, he was not raised in that tradition, which he learned instead from his siblings. His parents’ world view encouraged a modern outlook, leaving him open to two cultures and thereby inspiring N’Dour’s identity as a modern griot. As a Muslim, he has often incorporated aspects of Islamic music in his work.
In 1979, he formed his own ensemble, the Étoile de Dakar. His early work with the group, in the Latin style, was popular all over Africa during that time. In the 1980s, he developed a unique sound with his ultimate group, Super Étoile de Dakar featuring Jimi Mbaye on guitar, bassist Habib Faye, and tama (talking drum) player Assane Thiam.
By 1991, he had opened his own recording studio, and, by 1995, his own record label, Jololi.
N’Dour is one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. His mix of traditional Senegalese mbalax with eclectic influences ranging from Cuban rumba to hip hop, jazz, and soul has won him an international fan base of millions. In the West, N’Dour has collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Axelle Red, Sting, Alan Stivell, Bran Van 3000, Neneh Cherry, Wyclef Jean, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, James Newton Howard, Branford Marsalis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Dido, Lou Reed, Bruce Cockburn, and others.
The New York Times described his voice as an “arresting tenor, a supple weapon deployed with prophetic authority”. N’Dour’s work absorbed the entire Senegalese musical spectrum, often filtered through the lens of genre-defying rock or pop music from outside Senegalese culture.
Folk Roots magazine described him as the African Artist of the Century. He toured internationally for thirty years. He won his first American Grammy Award (best contemporary world music album) for his CD Egypt in 2005.
He is the proprietor of L’Observateur, one of the widest-circulation newspapers in Senegal, the radio station RFM (Radio Future Medias) and the TV channel TFM.
In 2002, N’Dour was honoured with a Prince Claus Award, under that year’s theme “Languages and transcultural forms of expression”.
In 2006, N’Dour played the role of the African-British abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the movie Amazing Grace, which chronicled the efforts of William Wilberforce to end slavery in the British Empire.
In 2013, N’Dour won a share of Sweden’s $150,000 Polar music prize for promoting understanding between faiths as well as for his music.
In Senegal, N’Dour became a powerful cultural icon, actively involved in social issues. In 1985, he organized a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela. He was a featured performer in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour collaborating with Lou Reed on a version of the Peter Gabriel song “Biko” which was produced by Richard James Burgess and featured on the Amnesty International benefit album The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball. He worked with the United Nations and UNICEF, and he started Project Joko to open internet cafés in Africa and to connect Senegalese communities around the world.
In 2003, N’Dour cancelled an upcoming American tour in order to publicly deny support for the upcoming American invasion of Iraq. In a public statement explaining his decision, N’Dour said:
It is my strong conviction that the responsibility for disarming Iraq should rest with the United Nations. As a matter of conscience I question the United States government’s apparent intention to commence war in Iraq. I believe that coming to America at this time would be perceived in many parts of the world–rightly or wrongly–as support for this policy, and that, as a consequence, it is inappropriate to perform in the US at this juncture.
He performed in three of the Live 8 concerts (in Live 8 concert, London, Live 8 concert, Paris and at the Live 8 concert, Eden Project in Cornwall) on 2 July 2005, with Dido. He covered John Lennon‘s “Jealous Guy” for the 2007 CD Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. He appeared in a joint Spain-Senegal ad campaign to inform the African public about the dramatic consequences of illegal immigration. N’Dour participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007.
In 2008, he joined the Fondation Chirac‘s honour committee. The same year, Youssou N’Dour’s microfinance organization named Birima (“Birima” is also a song’s title) was launched with the collaboration of United Colors of Benetton.
In 2009, he released his song “Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling)” under a Creative Commons license to help IntraHealth International in their IntraHealth Open campaign to bring open source health applications to Africa. The song was remixed by a variety of artists including Nas, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Duncan Sheik to help raise money for the campaign.
N’Dour is a supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which advocates for democratic reformation of the United Nations.
N’Dour is a member of the Canadian charity Artists Against Racism.
At the beginning of 2012, he announced plans to stand as a candidate in the 2012 Senegalese presidential election, competing against President Abdoulaye Wade. However, he was disqualified from running in the election over the legitimacy of the signatures he had collected to endorse his campaign. N’Dour backed the opposition candidate Macky Sall, who defeated Wade in a second round of voting in March 2012. N’Dour was appointed as Minister of Culture and Tourism in April 2012 as part of the cabinet of new Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye. L’histoire de la campagne présidentielle de N’Dour a été filmée pour l’émission télévisée PBS, “Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders”.  Plus tard, son portefeuille a été modifié et il a été nommé ministre du Tourisme et des Loisirs. Il a été démis de ses fonctions le 2 septembre 2013, lorsqu’un nouveau gouvernement dirigé par le Premier ministre Aminata Touré a été nommé.  N’Dour a été plutôt nommé comme conseiller spécial du président, avec le rang de ministre,  et chargé de promouvoir le pays à l’étranger.