The album Sant Allah, or Homage to God in Senegal’s mainstream Wolof language, marks a departure for one of West Africa’s most popular artists, who has won world renown for his mix of African rhythms and electric rock.
Ndour first made his name outside Africa working with Britain’s Peter Gabriel during the “world music” rage of the 1980s.
He consolidated his global reach with his 1994 hit Seven Seconds, sung with Sierra Leonean-born Swede Neneh Cherry.
“I am first and foremost a Muslim. Every believer needs to take stock at some point of their spiritual life,” Ndour said.
“Sant Allah is an album which praises the tolerance of my religion, which has been badly misused by a certain ideology,” Ndour said.
The Senegalese superstar has made political statements before. He postponed what should have been the biggest US tour of his career in March to protest against the war in Iraq. He finally carried out the tour later in the year.
“I cannot sing these songs in the usual places like the nightclub…or a stadium. It’s out of the question”
“At a time when there is a debate on Islam, the world needs to know how people are taking over this religion. It has nothing to do with the violence that one hears about, with terrorism.”
The album, which goes on sale first in cassette form in Senegal, includes paeans to Muslim leaders such as Sheikh Amadu Bamba, founder of Mouridism, Senegal’s conservative and economically powerful Muslim brotherhood.
Ndour said the idea for the new album first came to him during the holy month of Ramadan in 1998.
Sant Allah will be released globally on compact disc in two months.
Despite his success Ndour remains based in Senegal, an impoverished mainly Muslim country, where he has a modern studio and also owns a radio station, newspaper and popular club.
But he said there was no question of playing the new songs in his dance club in the capital, Dakar.
“I cannot sing these songs in the usual places like the nightclub…or a stadium. It’s out of the question,” he said.
“I refuse to even envisage it. This album is sacred for me, as its title shows. The promotional campaign will have to take into account that it is a spiritual product.”