Tanzania: Important Lessons for Bongoland Musicians From Youssou N'dour

I spent a night at Ethiopia Hotel, the Ethiopian Airline's hotel in Addis Ababa. I was on my way from Kilimanjaro International Airport to Dakar, Senegal, to attend an African Congress on Tourism in the early 1990s.

The Ethiopian city has a very long history. Actually, to be precise, a romantic history. Empress Taitu, the wife of Emperor Menelik-II (1889-1913) persuaded the Emperor to build a house near the hot springs at the foot of the tableland, and to grant land to the nobility. The city was thus founded in 1887 and was named Addis Ababa - 'New Flower in Amharic - by the Empress. But that is a story for another day...

After my overnight stay at the Hotel, the following day I boarded another Ethiopian Airlines flight to Dakar via Djamena in Chad.

It was a long flight across the Sahara Desert, where the clouds were brown on account of the heavy dust in the area.

Initially, the flight was very uncomfortable on account of the plane being fully packed with people who were flying back from the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

They - apart from performing the Hija in Mecca - had also taken time to buy a variety of electronic gadgets. And, for one reason or another, they had made a point of boarding the plane with the items as hand luggage. So, all the aisles and leg-room spaces inside the aircraft were full of the items.

Fortunately, the airline hostesses who had noticed my discomfort - and the fact that I, unlike the others, was clad immaculately in a black suit and tie - transferred me from the Economy to First Class. I, thereafter, enjoyed my flight with all the luxuries that go with First Class.

We literally flew to the west and into the sunset, arriving in Dakar at around 9:00 in the night. I was then hussled into a cab by an over enthusiastic driver and taken to a middle class city hotel near the central fish market.

The following day, I was taken to the venue for our conference - only to be told that it had been postponed.

And well, during those times of the telex communication system, this information had failed to reach me and many other delegates on time. So, here I was with at least four days to hang around town.

I visited the Pan-African News Agency head office in Dakar where I was reunited with my compatriot, Peter Masebu, who was working there. He gave me a roundup of the city's highlights. But, it was the famed Thiossane Club owned by world-renown musician Youssou N'dour which caught my attention.

Without fail, that very evening I was at the club to enjoy his music. And I was not disappointed - notwithstanding the Senegalese strange but popular music style that blends Wolof traditional instruments and local forms primarily with Cuban and other Latin popular genres.

At the end of his act, I had the privilege to sit down with him for some small talk. Born on October 1, 1959, Youssou N'dour is famed for his extraordinary vocal range, and for introducing international audiences to 'Mbalax' music style which has strong Wolof roots.

He was raised in a devout Sufi Muslim family and began singing at 12 years at religious festivals. Initially, he and his group performed outside various dance clubs as he was too young to legally perform inside clubs.

He played and sang for various Dakar bands before forming his own group, 'Etoile de Dakar.'

He graced the international scene, performing with several renowned international artistes, including Peter Gabriel - a British Rock musician - and Bruce Springsteen.

His international fame and global music reputation enabled him to own a recording studio, a media organisation that included a radio station, a newspaper and a network of internet cafes. No wonder in 1999 he organised the Great African Ball, an all-night dance party in New York city and Paris.

He has since been awarded the Praemium Imperiale for Music by the Japanese Art Association, a prize recognizing one's lifetime achievements in fields not usually covered by the Nobel Prizes.

He once won a Grammy Award, and was also named by the prestigious Time Magazine as one of the '100 Most Influential People in the World.'

Indeed, there is something that our Bongoland artistes can learn from Youssou N'dour: that life is not only about expensive cars and bungalows... Or gorgeous women! Sheesh!

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