While best known internationally for duets with Peter Gabriel and Neneh Cherry, the 51-year-old Senegalese vocalist Youssou N’Dour truly dazzles live with his own band. In his native Wolof, N’Dour seamlessly leaps from robust mid-scale trilling to yearning, high-note wailing, often over skittering polyrhythmic beats. So it’s a shame that on his latest album, Dakar-Kingston, he flaunts his multi-octave range only intermittently. The album—a tribute to reggae partly recorded in Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studio in Kingston—shows N’Dour awkwardly crooning in English on half of the album. Consequently, N’Dour’s voice doesn’t soar, and the hybrid Senegalese-Jamaican rhythms with Wailer keyboardist Tyrone Downie are disappointingly workmanlike. But tonight at the Lisner Auditorium, count on this songbird reaching back and making highlights from his catalogue sound celestial.
Youssou N’Dour performs at 8 p.m. at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $30-$65.