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Youssou N'Dour's Sant Yàlla/Egypt: a musical experiment in Sufi modernity1

  • Fiona McLaughlin (a1)

In collaboration with the Cairene composer Fathy Salama, Youssou N'Dour released an album that appeared in Dakar in 2003 as Sant Yàlla (‘Praise God’), and internationally in 2004 as Egypt. Sung in Wolof to the accompaniment of an Egyptian orchestra, the album consists of a suite of eight interrelated pieces, seven of which are praise songs to Senegalese Sufi shaykhs, while the remaining piece praises God, the Prophet Mohammed, and some important Mauritanian shaykhs. In this essay I argue that in bringing Senegalese Islam to the international arena, N'Dour uses his stature as a world-class musician to both articulate and participate in the creation of a Sufi modernity, namely a way of being a Sufi Muslim in a globalised world. In addition to being a personal journey for Youssou N'Dour, both musically in its orientation towards the East rather than the West, and in his own religious faith, Sant Yàlla/Egypt also echoes many of the current preoccupations of Muslim intellectuals and artists as they seek to renew and reinterpret their own local religious traditions for a global audience.

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Popular Music
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