To mark the release of History, his new album, the "king of mbalax" and former Minister of Culture and Tourism in Senegal has agreed to be Qwest TV's Guest of the Month. Here, he answers our questions.
Do you have a fluid conception of history? Do you think that views on history can change over time?
Our understandings of history may be different, the causes may be studied after the tragedies occur, but the background, I think, remains the same. If we talk about the great tragedies of history such as slavery, the Nazis, the ethnic war in Rwanda, crimes against humanity …
“Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.” How do you feel about this idea?
Unfortunately, this is true, more often than not. I think that the duty of remembrance and education contribute to us not repeating history, which is why ignorance is a scourge, and why education is the basis of everything.
In 2012, while running a presidential campaign, you spoke of a future “one Senegal.” Has this been achieved?
I think the country is moving in the right direction. It is a stable country and we are ensuring its stability, because that is the very essence of a successful mandate. Today, Senegal is a connected country, one that is moving towards modernity at its own pace, slowly but surely. There is a new international airport, and highways that now make transport much more fluid on a national level.
Politically, would you say that your music is more about comforting communities or disrupting power structures?
My music is not a political act – it is my passion – and this passion was born long before my passion for politics. But today all discourse has a political element. I have always talked about social problems in my songs, I have always talked about immigration, labour, unemployment, agriculture, fishing, everything that makes a country rich.
Do you encourage youth to stay in Senegal instead of migrating to Europe?
Europe is no longer an Eldorado as it once was. Today it is an illusion to think that going to Europe will bring wealth to a family. But you know, when a young person risks their life to go to Europe, knowing that they might get arrested or end up sleeping on the streets, they do so to support their family back home. That is the sole reason to do so when it is not a question of fleeing a country at war, which is not the case in Senegal.
So, of course, I encourage young people to stay in Africa and study at home or to give themselves the means to succeed in their country. For example, when a young person goes to Europe, it is often because everyone around him or her has contributed towards the trip. I think that this contribution would be more effective if it were put towards buying a boat for fishing, or buy a car for transport, but I know that is easy to say, and even if I understand the motivation of these young people, I cannot justify them taking all these risks without any insurance upon arrival.
Are you satisfied with the evolution of music in Senegal?
Yes, Senegalese music is very rich. There are several musical trends, hip hop has many followers in Senegal, mbalax remains number one and we have fabulous voices. I would like there to be more exchanges between international singers and Senegalese singers. I have had the chance to live this kind of life for thirty years and it has only brought me good experiences.
Are Senegalese music traditions alive and well today?
Tradition, whether musical or oral, is essential for us. It will always exist, griots (bards) will always exist and they transmit the tradition from generation to generation. You know, when you listen to Senegalese rap, there is always a traditional instrument, or a sample of traditional music.
The Super Etoile was known as the best live band in the world – how did you create such an on-stage energy?
The Super Etoile has been with me for thirty years, we know each other perfectly, that’s what forms the the group’s symbiosis.
How did you meet the nephew of Nigerian musician Babatunde Olatunji ?
During an American tour where my friend Mbacke introduced me to him in Los Angeles. He really liked my concert, and asked me to make a tribute to Babatunde, which I tried to do “virtually” in my album … but the project doesn’t stop there, we have to meet again soon to talk about a new project, probably in Nigeria, to pay tribute to this great artist: Babatunde Olatunji.
“Birma” features young Swedish singer Seinabo Sey and “Hello” features Swedish-Congolese singer Mohombi. Why do you want to work with young, global talent?
I like to know that when I turn around there are many young people who are ready to take up the torch with the same values as me. It reassures me and I always encourage them.
What did Habib Faye bring to your music? Presumably you must have greatly missed him when History was being recorded.
Habib was my friend, my bass player and my musical director, we worked together for years. I did a few albums without him, but we were composing new things together when the disease got the better of him. It’s a great loss for me, for the Super Etoile, and for all of Senegal.