They arrive by foot, car, scooter and battered black-and-yellow taxi, dolled up in their Saturday best for the imminent wee-hours concert by Mr. N’Dour, Africa’s biggest music star. “It’s a city that really comes alive at night.”
Though he has recently returned to Dakar, the Senegalese capital, from a gala in New York City for the international Keep a Child Alive charity — where he sang with Alicia Keys and was honored alongside Bill Clinton and Richard Branson — Mr. N’Dour sounds more like a wistful local kid than a 50-year-old global icon who has won a Grammy Award and was once named one ofTime magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” “I’m still very attached to Dakar,” he goes on, adding that he was born in a working-class neighborhood a few miles from the club. “And the people of Dakar are very attached to my music.”
And how. When he takes the stage, an ecstatic roar explodes, and soon several hundred bodies are dancing madly. With its fast-driving, interweaving traditional sabar drummers — rounded out by guitar, bass, keyboards and a rock drum kit — the opening number, “Less Wakhoul,” is pure mbalax, the propulsive, percussive, melodic pop music that Mr. N’Dour popularized starting in the 1970s and that remains the dominant sound emitted from Senegalese radios.
When the sun dips behind the Atlantic, this gritty concrete metropolis — exhilarating, inventive, emotive — flares into a living jukebox of sounds with few African rivals. And with the imminent arrival of the annual Africa Fête — a music festival from Dec. 12 to 19 featuring the mbalax master Omar Pène and many other top local acts — the city’s tuneful bounty is about to go on even larger and more ebullient display.
“Dakar is one of the most musically vibrant cities in Africa,” says Simon Broughton, editor in chief of the Britain-based Songlines magazine, which last year began operating tours of the city and this month features Youssou N’Dour on its cover.
“There’s a large number of clubs,” Mr. Broughton says, “and lots of music as part of the fabric of everyday life.”