Portrait of Youssou as a Young Man

One interview led to another earlier this week. I met with the assistant director of Youssou N’dour’s citizen movement known as Fekke Ma Ci Boole. In the Wolof language that means “it is because I am a witness that I play a part.” We spoke at Dakar’s Cultural Center, a quiet little oasis in the center of the city, dotted with massive baobabs.
A quiet moment amongst the baobabs between interviews

Then a man named Cheikh Tidiane N’dour (no relation) introduced himself. It turns out that he was Youssou’s first music teacher, beginning when Youssou was 15 at the conservatory in Dakar, and then giving him private lessons at home. He had “une voix aiguë,” meaning it wasn’t just high, but tight. Professor N’dour saw great potential. But some students in Youssou’s class made fun of his voice. Professor N’dour would tell them to stop. But Cheikh Tidiane N’dour said – hovering wiggling fingers around his head and heart – that Youssou’s voice touched him deeply from the first time he heard it. And he knew that if Youssou could master his abilities, “he would someday be world famous”.

As I was wrapping up that short sit-down with Cheikh Tidiane N’dour, another gentleman approached. Omar Badiane grew up with Youssou, and is a two years his senior. They used to go to a club in Dakar called Miami (mee-yah-MEE, you’ve got to say it right) in Youssou’s neighborhood of Medina. Omar was 15, Youssou was 13. Omar lived on the other side of the canal from Medina, and would hop to the other side. He, Youssou, and other boys would head over to Miami. As kids, they couldn’t go inside. But they’d hang outside the club, letting blasts of the air conditioning hit them while they danced to the house orchestra playing mambo, pachanga, and salsa, the sounds many Senegalese (not to mention much of Africa) loved in 1960s. Then around 1 am, the band would call the kid with the voice who was dancing outside. They’d get Youssou to sing one tune, and the crowds ate it up.
Today, Omar is a multi-instrumentalist himself, and has his own band. I asked Omar if he still danced. He said absolutely.
“So show me some moves,” I said.
“I need some music,” replied Omar.
I clapped out a 3/2 clavé beat, and Omar coolly cut his mambo steps in the sand.

Omar Badiane and Cheikh Tidiane N'dour

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