Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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YOUSSOU N'DOUR
Rokku Mi Rokka
Nonesuch

Senegalese singer continues his run of superb African pop albums

At forty-eight, the Senegalese singer-bandleader Youssou N'Dour has been the world's most consistent record maker all decade. His third album for Nonesuch isn't stone genius like 2002's chanson-inflected Nothing's in Vain or 2004's Sufi-themed Egypt. But N'Dour has learned how not to be swamped by his own internationalism, and here his strategy of moving a few favorite musicians north to Mali changes up the Senegalese mbalax he invented without surrendering its Sahel gestalt. Translations from the Wolof reveal lyrics about Senegalese independence, Sufi saints, the value of traveling, remembering, thinking. They're worth following, as are the phonetic transliterations. But with N'Dour, the prime attraction is always musical, radiating out from a voice whose skylike clarity and beseeching high end would catch you short in a singer half his age, but always including striking multipart melodies and skilled guitar-bass-drums-drums-drums. Ali Farka Toure sideman Bassekou Kouyate banjo-fies five tracks on four-stringed ngoni. And if you're good, Neneh Cherry will treat you to a duet on an English-language closer that's worth the wait.

Rolling Stone, Nov. 1, 2007