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Youssou N' Dour

From Dakar to Kingston


plus Inna De Yard


Barbican Hall


July 18, 2010





A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Inna De Yard opened this evening's performance with an all-star line up of reggae artists led by the inimitable guitarist, Earl “Chinna” Smith. 'Chinna', whose nickname is a corruption of ‘tuner’which derives from his childhood obsession with tuning his toy sound system to imitate his father's, has been making reggae since the late 1960's. 'Chinna' is without doubt a reggae legend, beginning his music career as a guitarist in The Aggravators, he played alongside the leading Jamaican session band of the 1970's, Soul Syndicate and also features on Bob Marley's seminal album, Rastaman Vibration. 'Chinna' has worked with every notable reggae artist from Lee 'Scratch' Perry to Jimmy Cliff to more recent artists such as Ziggy Marley and, ran “High Times” record label for many years. Inna De Yard was set up at the request of French label Makasound, and is exactly as the name suggests - recordings done of gigs in 'Chinna's' back yard. Makasound suggested this in order to capture an authentic spirit of reggae,  through a back to basic setting, emphasising the Jamaican ethos of creating music wherever and with whatever is at your disposal and the ‘real’ atmosphere allows the singers soulful voices to be heard in their true context. 

Inna de Yard is living proof to 'Chinna's' generosity of character, playing only two of his own songs tonight, he allows various other members of the band to do “der ting”. The night features such reggae legends as Clinton Fearon, a founding member of The Gladiators and Kiddus I, who achieved cult status in the ‘70's classic film Rockers. These legends perform their classic songs alongside upcoming, young stars such as Derajah and Matthew McAnuff.

At first we are treated to  'Chinna' alone on stage withan intimate, electro-acoustic performance of his ballad, Satan Side. 'Chinna', with his long dreadlocks wrapped about his head and white sunglasses obscuring his eyes, is dressed head to toe in a green Adidas tracksuit and bright, white trainers. He sets the trend for the rest of the band, who enter after his song, wearing a variety of different coloured Adidas tracksuits and white trainers, some sporting the Rasta, red, gold and green on hats or around their drums. Derajah launches into Ooh Yeah Yah, with the support of the whole band, his voice alternating between a soulful softness and Ragga harshness. His songs are politically and socially impassioned pieces about the ghetto youth, “one ting” he says “too much yewts dying”. 'Chinna' provides off beat riffs as Derajay Skanks onstage. Vocalists exchange the drums for the microphone throughout the gig, emphasising the communal aspect of the music, and the multi talented skill of the ensemble, with each vocalist given the opportunity of centre stage whilst also being part of the instrumentation.  When Kiddus I swaps his large drum for centre stage, his rousing voice commands the crowd as he skips and skanks along in his yellow tracksuit, singing two numbers, including his famous song Groundation in Zion from the film Rockers, which still sounds as fresh as it did in the ‘70’s. As though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, he throws his strong smooth voice, stirring it up into a penetrating growl. Throughout the gig, Muctar Wurie plays the melodica and provides staccato rhythms on piano, Alphonso Craig and Matthew McAnuff hand tap small drums and Kush McAnuff keeps the beat going on a drum kit, while Clinton Fearon provides bass and 'Chinna' plays lead guitar. By the time Clinton Fearon has entertainingly expounded on his Rasta philosophy, of “Do the things we love and love the things we do” He launches into One More River to Cross, reflecting on Jimmy Cliff's original sentiments. As it this weren't enough we are treated to two songs by The Viceroys including the brilliant Heart Made of Stone, where their falsetto voices create a mesmerizing harmony. Great energy is injected into the hall when the young buck Matthew McAnuff breaks into his songs such as Be Careful where he paces up and down the stage, his strong voice roaring through the auditorium. 'Chinna puts the finishing touches to their magnificent set with the easy vibes of Homegrown.

There is tangible excitement in the auditorium before Youssou N'Dour takes to the stage, with the audience on the edge of their seats. Youssou N'Dour is a Senegalese singer who has pioneered African music around the world, in particular the style of music known as mbalax,which fuses   Western music, such as rock and dance with the sabar, a traiditional form of Senagalese drumming, originally used by villages to communicate to each other. N'Dour has tirelessly campaigned for human rights in Africa and brought to the fore many important social and political issues, not only as a musician loved throughout Africa but also as a spokesman for the whole continent. He is a true visionary, who has the best interests of the African people in mind and heart. He makes music to uplift and unite, and uses his fame to draw attention to urgent issues that need to be addressed, in order to help Africa prosper.

The concert gets off to a rolling start with a heavy bass line vibrating throughout the crowd. One of his dynamic percussionists in a grey, silk shirt works the energy of the crowd. He explains that the first track is about a bird who goes away to get food for its’ baby, but there's a crocodile, lurking beneath the tree; this song can be interpreted in many ways he suggests. Youssou N'Dour graces the stage dressed all in white. The crowd's reaction is one of unrestrained joy as his voice resonates through the hall, with an echo effect adding an even more sonorous sound to his soaring vocals. The crowd hang on his every syllable as he sings in Wolof, his rich tenor carrying a deep resonance as it courses through the auditorium. The backing singers dressed in vibrant pinks and oranges, build a soothing background for N'Dour's voice as he starts to encourage the crowd to clap, bringing to life the audience who are seething to wriggle out of their seats and dance. With no less than three keyboardists, including the legendary Wailers keyboardist, Tyrone Downie, (hence the Dakar-Kingston connection), three guitarists, one bassist and five percussionists, the sound is a riot of rhythmic drumming, complimented by reverberating bass lines. At times the music is so evocative of Africa one just has to close ones eyes to be transported there.

Youssou N'Dour's performance is of the highest calibre. At times his voice has the same spiritually transcendent quality as the Muslim call to prayers, heard from the top of a minaret at dawn. He ululates and bends back and forwards towards the microphone, his hands reaching to his face, as if overwhelmed by the power of the sound as he stands facing the crowd. Suddenly a man in a white and black tunic bursts onto the stage barefoot and starts twirling and jumping in time to the music, his beads swing round his neck as his movements dynamically reflect the sabar rhythm. This is the trigger to set off the audience as the young man beside me, jumps out of his seat and starts dancing in the aisle - before N'Dour is even halfway through his set, the entire audience is on their feet, skanking in the aisles and by their seats. The reaction Youssou N'Dour incites in the crowd is proof of his huge popularity, and shows how he strikes a chord with everyone who hears him sing.

Youssou N'Dour explains “We have to fly from Kingston to Dakar, but we have to stop over before we leave” in reference to tonight's fusion of Reggae with Mbalax, which reaches its climax in his reggae rendition of his most famous track 7 Seconds. N'Dour duets with one of his female backing singers, singing in English then French, as the whole audience sing rousingly along to the chorus. N'Dour explains “When the slave left, this music left, that is why we feel part of this music” in reference to the Dakar-Kingston crossover. Tyrone Downie attests “Dakar and Kingston, the only ting is different is the language, mbalax, reggae ting, it's the same music, only the language is different”. N'Dour breaks into a mbalax cover of Redemption Song as red lights illuminate the stage, and a rush of energy fills the room as the talking drums and the rapid retort of other varieties of percussion build to climax.

The most poignant moment of the evening has to be when Youssou N Dour, bathed in green light sings a hymn to Africa. With only one keyboard providing the soundscape, his voice creates an indelibly potent mark of hope for Africa's future. The gig returns back to its carnival of mbalax and reggae fusion with various stage invasions, encouraged by the band, including one white woman who is invited onto the stage by the percussionist, to dance alongside him. She responds to the smash of each drum beat, with vigorous pelvic thrusts, managing to keep up with his every move. Later on in the evening I notice the same young man who was sitting next to me dancing on the stage too.

Youssou N'Dour's music transcends religion, race and ethnicity, it speaks to the heart and encourages people of all colours and creeds to unite and support Africa. Youssou N'Dour celebrates Africa's rich musical heritage and its’ diverse influence throughout the world. His dancers somersault and spin while his band play a blend of modern and traditional instruments, showing how mbalax and reggae are all really cut from the same cloth, one that can be traced back to the ancient lineage of  African griots, who have been spreading the same easily overlooked but never over emphasised message of love and unity since time immemorial.


Barbican Centre 
Silk Street 
London EC2Y 8DS 

Nearest tube: Barbican 

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