Youssou N'Dour is one of the world's best-known
musicians. In the course of a long and illustrious career, the
Senegalese artist has collected a Grammy, collaborated with
household names such as Peter Gabriel and Wyclef Jean, and had a
top ten hit around the globe in 1994 with 7 Seconds, a duet
recorded with Swedish songstress Neneh Cherry.
However, N'Dour's prodigious energies are not entirely devoted to music. The Senegalese star has been involved in a variety of social projects for many years now, teaming up with a host of fellow superstars for the Live 8 event, organising the Africa Live benefit concert in the fight against malaria, and appearing on behalf of the Your Voice Against Poverty campaign. He has also worked with Amnesty International, the UN and UNICEF.
Youssou N'Dour is hardly unknown to global football fans either after joining forces with Axelle Red on La Cour des Grands, the official song of the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ in France. While visiting FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter at the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Tuesday 25 March 2008, the gifted musician took time out for a chat with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Youssou, what brings you here today?
Youssou N'Dour: Two things. First of all, my European tour. I'm playing in Zurich tonight. And second, I have the honour of visiting FIFA and President Blatter today. I'd like to talk to FIFA about a few ideas for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. We can bring people closer together and achieve great things at a social level, somewhere between football and music. I have one or two ideas for a number of projects, which I'd like to discuss with FIFA President Blatter.
You sang the official song of the 1998 FIFA World Cup™. How passionate are you about football?
I'm a huge football fan. Football is a truly fascinating pastime with enormous power, because it brings people from all over the world together in peace. I was overjoyed when I was asked if I'd sing the official song of the 1998 World Cup, because I don't just love music, I love football too. It was always my dream to watch a World Cup game live some day. I wept tears of joy when I took the call, and I'm still grateful to FIFA for that. FIFA is involved in social projects at a number of levels and is achieving great things, and I'd like to continue my contribution to that.
What were your feelings when you performed at the 1998 FIFA World Cup?
It was a thrilling and amazing experience. When I sang at the opening match, I had the feeling I was representing my country, even though Senegal didn't make it to the finals. It was as if I pushed the door open for my country, as Senegal contested the next finals and gave some tremendous performances. So I often think back to 1998.
What's your favourite footballing memory?
It has to be the 2002 World Cup. I still remember waking up at five in the morning on the day of the opening match against France, just desperate for the game to start. I was ecstatic when we ended up winning the match. Everyone in Senegal, including the President, was beside himself with joy. It was just crazy. I had a concert in Madrid the following day. When I arrived in the morning, I saw the headlines in all the papers and on TV, and understood the power of football. Even the official who checked my passport said: "Well done Senegal!" It was just unbelievable.
Do you have a favourite player?
The first World Cup I really followed closely was the 1978 tournament in Argentina. It was the first time the matches were shown on national TV in Senegal, it had always been difficult to watch before. It was a phenomenal experience. The player who made me a football fan once and for all was Diego Maradona. He's absolutely my favourite player, even though his career came to a less than happy end. But I've been thrilled by other players too, like Zinedine Zidane, George Weah and Michel Platini. They were all fantastic footballers and personalities in their time.
Senegal failed to survive the group stage at the Africa Cup of Nations 2008 in Ghana. How disappointing was that for you and your country?
Obviously, we were incredibly disappointed. You can still feel it today. All the effort put in on behalf of the national team didn't pay off, and that hurts. We need to put it behind us as soon as possible and turn to the future. We need to pool our energies in Senegal and support the team as it develops and grows. After the disappointment in Ghana, we need to recapture the form of previous years.
Senegal are grouped with Algeria, Liberia and Gambia in the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. How would you rate your team's chances?
It's a tough group, but anything's possible. Senegal are favourites on paper, but we're in a difficult situation at the moment, and we'll need to escape that as quickly as possible if we want to qualify.
The FIFA World Cup finals are taking place in Africa for the first time. What does that mean for the continent as a whole?
It's wonderful and very important that the World Cup is to be held in Africa for the first time in 2010. Our thanks go to FIFA and President Blatter for awarding the World Cup finals to Africa for the first time. Naturally, I hope an African team wins the trophy, but that'll be exceptionally tough. The African teams will have to be at their peak to stand any chance of winning the World Cup.