Dakar-Kingston

One of world's greatest singers heads to Jamaica for Afro-reggae fusionMotherland reggae is nothing new. But Senegal's Youssou N'Dour does it right on this pilgrimage, convening veteran Jamaican players — journeyman guitarist Earl Chinna Smith and ex-Wailer keyboardist Tyrone Downie — while bringing his own music to the table. The result blends the signature chatter of talking drums with reggae's almighty one-drop groove in service of N'Dour's voice, a precisely modulated soul instrument that has never sounded better. The album's undistinguished vocal cameos are doomed by comparison, and the arrangements veer toward the glossy. N'Dour pays respect to his heroes: "Bamba" is a praise song to African Sufi leader Cheick Ahmadou Bamba. Yet it's telling that the closing cover of Marley's "Redemption Song" doesn't take off until the Senegalese rhythms kick in at the end. Ultimately, the fusions here are the greatest tributes to reggae's immortality.

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From The Archives Issue 1133: June 23, 2011