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Etoile de Dakar

  • Volume 1: Absa Gueye [Sterns, 1993] A
  • Volume 2: Thiapathioly [Sterns, 1994] ***
  • Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay [Sterns, 1996] A-
  • Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax [Sterns Africa, 2010] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Volume 1: Absa Gueye [Sterns, 1993]
Supposedly, Youssou N'Dour has gone onto better things than these first recordings, cut in 1979 with the seminal band he formed two years earlier at age 18. And without doubt his music has grown more ambitious and more accomplished. But there's nothing youthfully naive or folkishly charming about mbalax at this stage of evolution. Counterbalancing clavé-inflected sway with hectic tama-drum interjections, making ample room for guitar and horns, it never shrinks from its own complexities or sinks under their weight. With five band members writing, many of the 10 tracks grab you at every turn. And unlike N'Dour's always admirable and usually enjoyable internationalist fusions, they never overreach. A

Volume 2: Thiapathioly [Sterns, 1994]
meaning of title: public property ("Dounya," "Thiapathioly") ***

Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay [Sterns, 1996]
On the final installment of their collected works, Youssou N'Dour's first band embellish their self-taught Afrocentric charanga with horn lines whose intricately percussive Islamic tune families recall no Latin record I've ever noticed. Cut into still gaudier ribbons by the hectoring tenor of the soon-departed El Hadji Faye, it's wilder and weirder than any mbalax or fusion the nonpareil vocalist has put his name on since. A-

Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax [Sterns Africa, 2010]
"If I say this, you will think I'm crazy, but Étoile was like the Beatles," Finland-based guitarist Badou N'Diaye tells annotator-compiler Mark Hudson about Youssou N'Dour's first band, which Hudson believes belonged almost as much to El Hadji Faye's John Lennon as to N'Dour's McCartney. Those crude analogies are mine, not Hudson's, and they're vocal only, plus maybe McCartney/N'Dour's head for business. But Beatles is right: As Hudson puts it, these 23 1979-1981 recordings document an "uncouth, uneducated racket" of "nobodies from the other side of the tracks" who jump-started the Senegalese music industry and launched the career of a mechanic's son who decades later would be name-dropped as a presidential possibility. Duplicating only four tracks from Rough Guide's coruscating best-of and unearthing seven worthy songs left off Sterns' four long-unobtainable '90s reissues, this collection generates a rough excitement elided by N'Dour on mature albums that compensate with focus and scope. But he still hits it live sometime, because he knows how sweet it is. A