Singing to a Political Beat: Interview with Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour
BRUSSELS, Apr 28, 2008. Inter Press Service – If a European rock music fan has just one album by an African artist in his or her collection, there is a higher than average chance it was recorded by Youssou N’Dour. The Senegalese man’s status as his continent’s most lucrative cultural export was underscored in 2005, when he was the only African to appear at the main Live8 concert in London’s Hyde Park, an event that attracted several billion TV viewers, according to its organisers.
As well as delighting audiences with his ebullient live performances, N’Dour regularly lobbies world leaders, urging them to show greater resolve in tackling African poverty. At last year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, he joined Irish rock stars Bono and Bob Geldof in protesting at how pledges made by top industrialised countries to increase development aid are not being honoured. A goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), he has been especially eager to see international efforts to combat malaria intensified.
N’Dour spoke to IPS Brussels correspondent David Cronin.
IPS: Data published in the past few weeks indicates that the amount of aid that rich countries give to poor countries is falling. Does that distress you?
YN’D: If G8 countries decide to reduce their aid for development, that would be a catastrophe. With the increase in the cost of living, especially in poor countries, we need more aid, especially because children are more exposed to diseases like malaria. I’m very disappointed by the reduction in aid.
IPS: Louis Michel, the European commissioner for development, said last week that he does not believe European Union governments regard development aid as a priority. Do you agree with him?
YN’D: What Louis Michel says is the truth. But it is not enough. The European Union must maintain its leadership on aid.
IPS: But is that undermined by its efforts to foist trade liberalisation on Africa? And do you agree with Abdoulaye Wade, the President in your native Senegal, who has been very critical of the Economic Partnership Agreements that the EU wants to conclude with Africa?
YN’D: I agree completely with Wade. The agreements between Europe and Africa must be changed.
Everyone knows that the system of trade is not fair. Take the example of agriculture. Europe can subsidise its farmers but farmers in Africa are not subsidised. When European farmers sell their products, they sell them at a cheaper price than our agricultural products. That is not fair.
IPS: European vessels operating off Senegal’s waters have been accused of causing a great deal of damage to the fisheries sector in your country. The old fisheries agreement between the EU and Senegal has expired and not been renewed. Is that a good thing?
YN’D: For the past eight years, the government in Senegal has tried to pursue a certain vision. It is right to try to change the historic accord. A government that enters power without trying to change things should have to jump.
IPS: How do you feel about the electoral impasse in Zimbabwe and the challenge it presents for Africa?
YN’D: The problem in Zimbabwe is one of courage. There are good things happening in Africa but we are a continent of contradiction. We have seen democratic elections in some countries. But when the world sees an advance for democracy, we then see something like what has happened in Zimbabwe. It is tragic.
The world must help to advance democracy. There must be transparent elections. And when somebody wins an election, they must be able to govern.
IPS: Your 2004 album ‘Egypt’ addressed your Islamic faith. You have described Islam as a religion of peace but since the disc was released we have seen atrocities like the London bombings in 2005. What is your response to European politicians and some commentators who equate Islam with terrorism?
YN’D: Islam is a religion of peace. But every religion has a minority of extremists. The media gives the impression that extremists represent the totality of Islam. The reason why I made ‘Egypt’ was to show another side.
IPS: You have worked closely with Bono and Bob Geldof. How do you feel about the criticisms they have received, the allegations that they have become too friendly with world leaders, such as George W. Bush?
YN’D: Bono, Geldof, Youssou N’Dour: we have created a new type of diplomacy. A cultural and artistic diplomacy. We are not for either the left or the right.
If leaders do things that should be encouraged, we should encourage them. If they do things that should be denounced, then they should be denounced.
I have never been in favour of the war in Iraq. But I do agree that Bush has done good work on malaria and AIDS. We are not only here to criticise. We are also here to encourage. (END/2008)
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