Reggae is the lingua franca of the African diaspora, so it was maybe inevitable that the globally minded N’Dour would eventually try speaking it. He recorded these 14 tracks at Tuff Gong in Jamaica, with the Wailers’ Tyrone Downie producing and renowned reggae sideman Earl Chinna Smith handling the guitar work. Nor do the album’s ties to Jamaican musical tradition end there: Morgan Heritage, a group comprising the children of reggae star Denroy Morgan, guest on “Don’t Walk Away.”
N’Dour has long seemed to covet Bob Marley’s mantle as musical prophet to African emigrants worldwide, and Dakar-Kingston lays his cards on the table. The opener, “Marley,” is a praise song with awkward English lyrics that trail off into a list of song titles, on which the great dub poet Mutabaruka handily upstages the star; the finale is a version of Bob’s “Redemption Song.” But the album works best when the music speaks for itself. The Caribbean roots of mbalax are supposedly Cuban, not Jamaican, but that familiar reggae downbeat driving older N’Dour tracks like “Medina” and “Bamba” re-contextualizes Senegalese music exactly as such a project should.