The newly renovated Ford Theatres kicked off their exciting new series IGNITE@TheFord! with an exhilarating concert by Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour. Even those who think they don’t know him by name will recognize his distinctive voice from Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes, Paul Simon’s Graceland album, his hits Shaking The Tree and Seven Seconds, his duet with Neneh Cherry.
With newly designed soundwalls, enhanced lighting and sound, the 1,200 seat Ford Theatre provided the perfect, intimate setting for this special evening. From the first number it was clear this was something different as a diverse crowd, even for Los Angeles, immediately began dancing and were in the aisles, many dressed in colorful, Senegalese finery. Every age, from the darling two year old who ended up on stage with N’Dour to folks feeling the fire in their seventies, was incapable of staying seated. N’Dour said to the crowd, “when I see security running around going crazy, I know it’s a good concert. You can’t stop the people!” As unnerving as that may sound, it was clear that no one was rushing the stage. People simply couldn’t stop themselves from dancing, singing and celebrating.
N’Dour has a powerful yet gentle stage presence that creates an indescribable ambiance that filled the outdoor theatre. There was pure enthusiasm along with a reverence for the man that many feel is one of the great pop vocalists in the world. Having been on the world stage for over 30 years, one would expect a certain amount of “maturity” to have crept into his voice but that just wasn’t the case. N’Dour’s crystal clear voice is as powerful, penetrating and stirring as it was when he burst on the global scene in the 1980’s. Performing his hits along with songs off of his recent album, Africa Rekk!, N’Dour had the crowd in the palm of his hand as his voice soared, piercing the night sky.
As big of a star as he is, he remains humble and approachable, as several audience members found out when he personally invited them to come onto the stage to dance with him. They honestly were all pretty fantastic but one woman in particular surprised even N’Dour with her talent. Abagail Fritz, originally from Colorado, stunned the crowd with her expert Senegalese dance moves that we later found out she has studied for 15 years. N’Dour invited her to keep going much to the delight of the crowd. She later said “it was such an honor. I was so nervous!”
Speaking of dancing, we were also privileged to experience the electrifying dancer, Moussa Sonko, who has been touring with N’Dour since 2005. Creator and lead dancer of Les Ballets de la Renaissance Africaine, WAATO SiiTA, Sonko defies gravity with his dynamic fusion of traditional Senegalese and urban dance styles.
N’Dour and his band, Super Étoile, has made their native Mbalax music famous throughout the world. Mbalax roots come from traditional griot percussion and praise-singing mixed with Afro-Cuban arrangements, characterized by Senegalese dance rhythms, smooth saxophone solos and distinctive talking-drum and djembe percussion. It is explosive, expressive and virtually impossible to resist.
Super Étoile was smoking Sunday night with Abdoulaye Lo on drums, Mostapha Gaye and Pape Oumar Ngom on guitar, Assane Thiam on Tama, Babacar Faye and El Hadju Oumar Faye on percussion, Moustapha Baidy Faye and Ibrahima Cisse on Keyboards, Thierno Sarr on bass, and Alain Rodrigue Oyono on Saxophone. Birame Dieng and Pascale Kameni Kamga provided gorgeous backing vocals with the beautiful Kamga singing the Neneh Cherry part on Seven Seconds.
It was a breathtaking, unforgettable concert that gave me a little taste of what it must be like to attend a Great African Ball, N’Dour’s famous all night events in New York and Paris. Bucket list?