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CD REVIEW

Youssou N’Dour “Rokku Mi Rokka”

by Philip Brasor

Since escaping from Sony’s fusion fixation around the turn of the millennium, Senegal’s most vital musical export has rebooted his career by exploring styles he only touched on in the past. “Nothing’s in Vain” (2003) appropriated chanson and “Egypt” (2005) was a full-throated tribute to the Middle Eastern Sufism that informs N’Dour’s own interpretation of Islam.

“Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take)” is more of a mixed bag, though the instrumental cohort borrows heavily from Mali, in particular Bassekou Kouyate on the four-stringed n’goni, whose plucky insistence figures decisively on five cuts. As always, it’s the rhythm that draws you in, but the songs themselves have more dance hooks than the latest Britney blowout. In line with the title, N’Dour partakes of a deeply personal conversation with his musicians that reflects the conversation he wants to have with his listeners. And while this latter conversation tends toward the didactic — how to respect elders, how to handle money, even how to cheer your favorite athlete — it never sounds shrill or condescending.

Singing this transcendent and soulful can’t sound anything but liberating, which is the real intended effect of N’Dour’s music, regardless of style or content.