We arrived late enough that the usher walked us to our seats (second row!) while Youssou N’dour sang his first song. Of course there were people who were sitting in our seats that the usher had to kick out. I tried to be patient while reminding myself that the notion of reserved seats is totally foreign to Senegalese (and I imagine other West Africans). For an entire song, people remained seated, bouncing and swaying in the confines of their seats. Finally a small group of dancers made their way to the front of the theater and little by little, ndank ndank, people rose to dance. Soon we were dancing shoulder to shoulder and you could feel the union’s wood floor moving underfoot. Up front, among the dancers, the Americans were outnumbered by the Senegalese and Gambians. The West Africans were dressed to the nines, smiling widely, and moving with ease. An eight year old, dressed in a three-piece suit sat atop his fathers shoulders next to me.
N’dour sang entirely in Wolof and I was reminded what it feels like not to understand something that everyone around me does. He would sing a line and it would elicit a response from the crowd. Next line sung, different response given. All of the Gambians and Senegalese folks around me laughed at his jokes while I stood there with a silly grin on my face. At one point, he sang one of his most popular songs and the Wolof-speaking crowd started singing out loud. To my left, a deep voice belted with reverence, as though we were in church. I looked over and was surprised to see that it was Diene. My heart sank a bit as I realized how good it must feel to be immersed in his own language (well, at least his second language) and, in turn, how tiresome it gets to live and work and speak in English.
I am grateful for the chance to see Youssou N’dour, a world-renowned musician, right here in Madison, WI.