Youssou N'Dour

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Travel broadens the mind, as the saying goes, but in some ways Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour went around the world to get back to the music nearest to home. He’s the most famous Afropopper to find stardom prospecting for gold in the West, though creatively speaking, his pop records pale in comparison with those employing mbalax, the Dakar-bred rock style N’Dour has been refining since he invented it in the late ’70s. Most of the songs on the ambitious new Rokku Mi Rokka are something else entirely, however. The disc explores rhythms from Senegal’s northern region, sounds that were undoubtedly more rustic before N’Dour got ahold of them.

Still, parts of Rokku suggest that N’Dour may need a bit more immersion in that region’s homespun fare. His voice, sun-parched and powerful, saves everything here, but as fine as acoustic-guitar-driven showcases like “Pullo Árdo” and “Sama Gámmu” are, the pastoral arrangements have less spring than their counterparts “Sportif” and “Tukki”—pieces that are outfitted with thunderingly cosmopolitan effects and tama drums from Dakar. Nothing misses quite as spectacularly as the cheeseball funk on “Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling),” the English-language closer; it reunites N’Dour with onetime collaborator Neneh Cherry. Thankfully, when the singer returns to full-blown mbalax (check out “Bajjan,” or the instant hit “4-4-44”), he’s in world-class form.

Youssou N’Dour’s Great African Ball is at Nokia Theatre Wed 21 and Nov 22.

—K. Leander Williams

Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take) (Nonesuch)