By Francis Ngwa Niba
King Carl XVI Gustaf will on August 27, 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden, personally present this years’ Polar Music Prize to Senegalese Musician and Culture and Tourism Minister Youssou N’dour and Finnish Composer Kaija Saariaho, joint 2013 winners. When N’dour finally receives that award, it will cement his reputation as one of the best known musical exports from Africa. Established in 1989 by Stig “Stigkan” Anderson, the late manager of legendary pop group ABBA, the Polar Music Prize is one of the most prestigious on earth. Previous winners include Paul McCarthney of the Beatles fame, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Paul Simon. At 53, N’dour , has achieved almost everything and won a string of awards and can now rightly lay claim to the title of “most prolific African musician of the 20th century”. He is a singer, songwriter, composer and actor.
According to the prize award committee, Youssou N’dour won because he is “not just a singer but a story teller, poet, singer of praise, entertainer and verbal historian. Youssou N’dour is maintaining the griot tradition and has shown that it can also be changed into a narrative about the entire world. With his exceptionally and exuberant band super Etoile de Dakar (Dakar Star) and his musically ground breaking and political solo albums, Youssouf N’dour has worked to reduce animosities between his own religion Islam and other religions”. His Voice encompasses an entire continent’s history and future, blood and love, dreams and power”
His 2005 album titled “Egypt” won the best Grammy contemporary world music award. His albums were also nominated five times for the Grammy awards.
The Polar Prize
In 1989, the late Stig Anderson donated a MSEK 42, ($US 6.441.125) to a foundation as investment that could guarantee an annual prize payment to one or two distinguished musicians and it should be “ the world’s biggest music prize”. Since then, the fund is managed effectively and offers the much sort after prize. The 2013 laureates will each receive one million SEK. ($US153.360)
To qualify to get selected, a musician must fulfill a cardinal principle of the fund;
“The donor’s breadth of musical vision, characterised by an insistence that it is not only “good” music in the conventional sense which deserves to be rewarded, because “good” music can mean such a wide variety of things, is reflected by the statues of the foundation. Without any restrictions of nationality, the prize is to awarded for significant achievements in music and/or musical activity, or for achievements which are found to be of great potential importance for music or musical activity, and it shall be referable to all fields within or closely connected with music”.
Yousssou N’dours music fulfilled all the conditionalities.
Last year, Youssou N’dour almost abandoned music because of his presidential ambitions.
In an interview with TFM TV, he was asked if he will be a “singing president” if he won the country’s presidential elections.
“Look” he told the journalists, “We have to be serious here. If I am elected president, I cannot continue singing”. He was never elected primarily because he was disqualified from contesting.
Close aides of Youssouf N’dour say he still writes songs and mentors a good number of new musicians .
Afraid of his broad based support in the country, former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, connived and his candidacy for the presidential elections was rejected on the grounds that some of the signatures he submitted were fraudulent. N’dour immediately threw his weight and support behind the eventual winner of those elections Macky Sall. No surprise then that new Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye appointed him minister of Tourism and Culture.
Youssouf N’dour has used the fame that his music gave him to campaign for a number of national and international issues around the world beginning with a 1985 concert he organized for the release of then imprisoned anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. He has served as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations and UNICEF, was part of an Amnesty International campaign to Save Darfur (In Sudan) and was part of the team that sang on the hugely successful ICRC sponsored single “So Why” about the evil of wars across Africa. Because of the scandal of hundreds of Senegalese “boat people” who use rickety boats to immigrate to Europe, he composed the hugely successful song “ “Immigres-Bitim Rew”. In an interview with a French TV station, he warned French politicians to “stop using the issue of immigration to try to win elections”. Most Senegalese immigrants like their counterparts from Francophone Africa, head for France in search of a better Life.
Seven seconds, Birima and Summer Madness are three of his best known songs. A well-known world music practitioner, Youssou N’dour has collaborated with some of the best world known musicians including Lauryn Hill, Paul Simon, Tracy Chapman and Peter Gabriel