With its Dakar - Kingston title and an opening track simply called Marley, it would seem that this album is designed as a tribute to Jamaica's king of reggae music. Upon further investigation, the king of African music (well, one of them) has elected to pay homage to Bob Marley and the Wailers in a less obvious fashion.
Youssou N'Dour is revisiting songs from his own back catalogue, picking representatives from five older discs. The original material here is in the minority. He's been recording in Marley's old Tuff Gong studio in Kingston, with Wailer keyboardist Tyrone Downie at the production helm. There were also sessions in Dakar and Paris, so this is a typically international project.
Downie has had a significant input in the new reggae-fied arrangements of the songs, and has gathered together a creamy crop of veteran players. Where else would it be possible to hear the guitar combination of Oumar Sow, from N'Dour's regular combo, and Earl 'Chinna' Smith, from almost every 1970s reggae album conceivable? Also on hand are saxophonist Dean Fraser and percussionists Bongo Herman and Sticky Thompson, though the disc's booklet manages to misspell most of their names.
Marley features N'Dour very directly addressing Bob's legacy, assisted by the raspingly intoned verses of Jamaican poet Mutabaruka. This one song succinctly details the mission at hand. It's a gentle reggae lope, highly poppy with its little synth worms and harmonious backing vocals.
N'Dour often sounds ungainly when singing in English, but his accent does possess a certain charm. Before too long, he's back into Wolof lines, doing an electro-dancehall strut to Medina. He's back to English for Joker, joined by a guesting Patrice. Bamba is extremely catchy, making a brisk stride, with clipping keyboard punctuations, the horn section adding extra bounce. Black Woman is the epitome of N'Dour's simple and approachable stance here. His mixture of Senegalese mbalax and Jamaican reggae is finely balanced throughout the course of this entire disc, best showcased on Diarr Diarr.
Morgan Heritage guests on Don't Walk Away, the first of two tracks that feature some eerie harmonica trilling. Usually, this role would be tackled by a melodica, but these parts are surely taken by a mouth-harp. N'Dour saves his best soaring vocal delivery for the closing Pitch Me, a tightly-woven skank that boasts a fulsome bassline, detailed percussion and a rich weave of voices.