Youssou N’Dour and Fathy Salama’s Cairo Orchestra brought the majesty of their music to Hill Auditorium on Saturday as part of their “Egypt” tour. N’Dour hails from Senegal, an African nation influenced by a unique form of Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism.
The concert was presented by the University Musical Society, and the Senegalese Association of Michigan also helped bring N’Dour to Hill. This group, composed of some of the approximately 3,000 Senegalese people in the Metro Detroit area, wanted to “help UMS get the word out about the concert – N’Dour is a great ambassador of Senegal,” group representative Al Housseynou said.
N’Dour is the leading exporter of “m’blax” a combination of brass, Afro-pop, jazz and African drumming. He inherited the title of griot (a West African wandering musician and poet) from Senegalese tradition. “He has inherited those traditions, and (he) has to tell people of the past. Singing (about) real life events, singing about people, nature and facts of life,” Housseynou explained.
Drawing from the unique Sufi tradition of Muridism in Senegal, N’Dour’s performance reflected the esoteric qualities preached by the religion. In traditional golden-brown robes, his stage presence was mesmerizing. As the music intensified, he twirled faster and jumped higher, encouraging dancing in the front row of the audience. In a burst of energy, one of the members of the orchestra moved around the stage playing hand cymbals.
Although N’Dour has gained international prestige, the concert didn’t showcase only his talents; he allowed the orchestra’s music to come out in dazzling solos. Fathy Salama’s Cairo Orchestra utilized instruments that echo the sounds of Northern Africa – strings, percussion and woodwinds with an Arabic twist.
Rhythm instruments included tabla, dohalla and sagat. Stringed instruments included the shaker rababa (a two-string fiddle), and woodwinds were the oud, kawala and anghuls. The sweet sound of the kawala pranced through the heavy line of strings and drums. Songs would often begin as solos; then, the rest of the orchestra would slowly be integrated. Just as their music began to saturate the air, N’Dour would interject with his full, passionate voice.
Most of the songs referenced Islam and Allah – N’Dour’s “Egypt” album was initially made for N’Dour’s friends and family during the Islamic holy month Ramadan. He performed songs that were exclusively dedicated to the founder of Muridism, Bamba, in “Shukran Bamba” (“Thank You, Bamba”) and the sacred city Touba in “Touba-Dar Salaam.”
The concert combined N’Dour’s Senegalese music with the Egyptian orchestra. “It was amazing to see the fusion of such rich and distinct cultures. To see them put it together like that was incredible,” said LSA senior Tina Byenkya, a member of the African Students Association.
The encore of N’Dour’s performance was an exuberant spectacle. With an audience dancing and reaching with their arms in the air, his soulful voice chanting “Touba” with climaxing drum beats, an audience member jumped onto stage and joined the percussion section of the orchestra. This man’s presence was accepted and celebrated as the musicians joined N’Dour in dancing. Their joyful music enchanted the audience, and they too were on their feet, reveling in their own celebrations.