World music concert misses a beat

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World music concert misses a beat

Wearing a mustard-gold tunic and matching pants, Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour was beaming on stage with his penetrating, multi-octave voice ― weaving the commanding percussion sounds and guitar melodies into a single sound. Hearing the overwhelming range and almost inhuman power of his voice, one would have thought that the singer carried at least four amplified speakers with him at all times.
N’Dour visited Seoul for the first time on March 1 for a solo concert at the LG Arts Center in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul. As he got up on stage with his eight-member band, The Super Etoile De Dakar (two guitars, one bass, one drum, one hand drum, two keyboards and one backup singer), N’Dour shouted out, “I’m so happy to be here! This is the first time officially they play African music [in Korea].”
The LG Arts Center has been hosting a world music month, with performances from Youssou N’Dour and The Super Etoile De Dakar, and the Soweto Gospel Choir, from South Africa (that concert is on March 28).
World musicians have gradually been building a following among the Korean public, although the world music genre has not reached the status of being a “trend.” N’Dour scored a hit in Korea with his single “7 Seconds,” originally a duet with Neneh Cherry in 1994, when he remade it with contemporary Korean jazz singer Na Yun-sun.
It seems Korean audiences, although enthusiastic about new genres, are unfamiliar with N’Dour and The Super Etoile’s muddy percussion and lyrical rhythms, which sometimes sound like chants and other times like old pop songs. Although during the concert the audience tried their best to enjoy the music, clapping in unison to the songs as well as shouting out the occasional cheer, there seemed to be a disconnect with the performers on stage.
The one song that everyone immediately got up on their feet for was the familiar “7 Seconds” (from the album “The Guide” in 1994).
The singer, however, has proven that he is more versatile and complex than a single hit song. He has received numerous accolades, and music journalists sing his praises.
With “My Hope is in You” (from the album “Joko” in 2000), performed toward the end of the concert, N’Dour’s artistry became clear, singing in a full but piercing voice in his native tongue. The song started with a soulful guitar solo, then built up to a passionate vocal performance, sounding like the spiritual theme of Africa or the echo of its mountains in one concentrated moment.
N’Dour and the band ended the night politely with two encores and a final bow at the end. Maybe it was the fact that this kind of music doesn’t have its maximum effect in a rigid concert hall with cushioned chairs, or maybe it was the cultural distance between the audience and the music genre, but the evening left a bit to be desired.


By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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