Senegal's N'Dour drops music for election "buzz"

Tue Jan 3, 2012 5:52pm EST
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By Mark John and Diadie Ba

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal's Youssou N'Dour has taken his music to audiences around the world but says his decision to stop singing and run for president was prompted by a nagging sound straight from the streets of his West African nation.

"For over 15 years I have heard this buzz going about for me," N'Dour said at his headquarters in a chic suburb of the capital Dakar, adorned with awards including a gold-plated Grammy for his 2004 album "Egypt."

"An overwhelming majority of the Senegalese people have asked Youssou N'Dour to run as president ... I said 'yes' and I agreed to be a candidate," he said in an interview with Reuters and the African news agency APA.

After months of speculation, N'Dour, 52, announced his plan to run in a February 26 election late Monday. But whether the co-writer of the 1994 hit single "7 Seconds" has time to translate his domestic popularity into votes is far from certain.

A successful businessman with his own newspaper, television and radio channel, N'Dour already leads a grassroots citizen movement and has long been a conduit for criticism of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, who wants to extend his 11-year rule.

The 85-year-old Wade is a skilled political operator with decades of experience and his hands firmly on the machinery of power, while N'Dour must join a crowded pack of over a dozen presidential rivals.

In a country which treasures intellectuals and whose first post-independence president was the poet and linguist Leopold Sedar Senghor, N'Dour's relative lack of formal education is another potential handicap he knows he must overcome.

"For 50 years the people have seen Senegal run by what I would call traditional politicians and they have had enough," he said of a country where formal jobs are scarce and most of whose 12 million population are living on a few dollars a day.   Continued...