Sunday, February 12, 2012

Yousou N’Dour Dances, But to the Tune of ‘Dirty’ Politics

For the past 25- plus solid years,  the undisputed king of Mbalax has been signing songs that appeal to the world. That was thought to be his destiny.  He even refused his father’s wish to pursue a university degree.  Today, he is one of world greatest singers. He earns support beyond his country of birth. But in a rather shock move, he changed his gears, plunging into domestic politics. He’d accused President Wade of ‘hearing only in mono, not stereo’, but little did he realise that the instruments that produce appealing tunes in politics are different from the ones he was used to. Now that he is disqualified to run for the presidency, Kissy Kissy Mansa writes that the super star is, but dancing to the songs of other authors…

When Mbalax super star Yousou N’Dour puts his successful music career on hold in response to what he calls a “supreme patriotic duty,” at first, it all sounded like a ‘big joke’.
For Yousou N’Dour had always maintained: “I want to use my music to deliver a political message… but I don’t want to be a politician.”
On January 3, Senegal’s most known person sent shock waves when he declared that he wants to become a force for change rather than just a voice of change.
Certainly, the pull factor was too heavy for him to resist. He entered. His justification: “For a long time, men and women have demonstrated their optimism, dreaming of a new Senegal.
“They have in various ways called for my candidacy in the February presidential race. I listened. I heard. And I responded favorably.”
Even after that declaration, there were misgivings. But those who think that the musician had no political ambition are not better informed. N’Dour was very much involved in politics. He’d campaigned for the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and performed at concerts for Amnesty International. In 2006, he was the only black actor in Amazing Grace, Michael Apted’s film about slavery. As a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, he has focused on African issues such as the Darfur crisis, broadening internet access and the famine in Somalia. That is political.
And those who think that Yousou N’Dour’s plunge into electoral politics is an unusual move for an African entertainment celebrity, are equally not well informed. Infact, since the end of European colonialism, musicians have often served as voices of conscience and protest in independent African nations, criticising corruption and dictatorship.
The best-known example was Fela Kuti of Nigeria, the main creator of the Afropop style in the 1970s and a ferocious opponent of military rule in his country. Like Yousou, Fela announced planned to seek Nigeria’s top position in 1979 and 1983, but was disqualified both times.
In some other developing countries, especially those in Latin America and the Caribbean, that kind of crossover is more common and accepted, however.
The current president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, was a singer. He was elected last year in a race in which the rapper Wyclef Jean, a friend to Yousou, also threw his hat in the ring, only to be disqualified because he did not meet presidency requirements.
But Africa is a different continent. N’Dour is the undisputed king of Senegalese music, and arguably the most important figure in world music.
He is famous for much more than being famous: the embodiment of the self-made man, he is feted at home as an entrepreneur and job-creator, owning two recording studios, a micro-finance company and a stake in a leading nightclub. He is a media mogul with television and radio stations and the widely read L’Observateur newspaper.
That aside, N’Dour is a member of that country’s most powerful Sufi brotherhood, which would boost his election chances.
But the hurly-burly of domestic politics, is something else. Liberia’s super star George Weah, the former world footballer of the year tried in 2005 to translate fame into votes, but failed.
“But I’m not George Weah…” alerted Yousou N’Dure responded to that comparison. He’d hoped his celebrity brings greater success than it did for George Weah and Fela Kuti.
But the spine-tingling singer, composer, occasional actor, entrepreneur, and political activist could not have realised that he needed more than fame and money.
For the past 25 years, this undisputed king of Mbalax has been signing songs that appeal to the world. Music was thought to be his destiny. Born in Medina in Dakar, Senegal to a car mechanic, Youssou even refused his father’s wish to pursue a degree in law or medicine.
Today, he is one of world greatest singers. He is feted home, earns support beyond his country of birth, Senegal.
However, in a rather shock move, especially to the music world, he changed his gears, plunging into domestic politics.
He’d accused president Wade of ‘hearing only in mono, not stereo’ but little did he realise that the instruments that produce appealing songs in politics are different from musical instruments – the ones he was used to.
He needed political knowledge beyond understanding the requirement of standing as a candidate, but N’Dour does not even have a school certificate. And he does not have a political organisation. He may be a giant in music, but compared to his opponents in the political race, he is a dwarf. Yet, he is determined.
“It’s true that I haven’t pursued higher education,” he had admitted in reaction to his critics. “I have proved my competence, commitment, rigour and efficiency time and time again. I have studied at the school of the world.”
Perhaps Yousou never thought that his innocent intension of emerging as the savior for his chaos stricken Senegal would be crushed the way the Constitutional Council did it on Friday January 26.
Shocked to his throat, he helplessly stared at President Wade appointed strange-looking five people who were to decide on his eligibility. Disqualified, he was declared. Qualified was the man the entire nation did not want. And shattered were Yousou’s dreams.
“I am a candidate and I will remain a candidate,” Ndour however said after the Constitutional Council’s decision.
“Abdoulaye Wade should not even have presented his candidacy as the basic law says he does not have the right to do so.”
He continued: “This is going to create tension. The opposition in its great majority does not support any fiddling with the constitution.”
“We have exposed ourselves to tensions, to electoral problems from the beginning. The die has been cast. From now on, we don’t control anything.”


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