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Youssou N’Dour awarded honorary degree at Berklee Valencia

Youssou N'Dour awarded honorary degree at Berklee Valencia

The honour was awarded to N’Dour in recognition of his impact on the music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries and for bringing the music and traditions of Senegal to an international audience.

Berklee Valencia’s executive director, Simone Pilon, presented the degree to N’Dour at the commencement ceremony in Valencia, Spain, on 8 July.

According to Berklee, through his music, philanthropy, and political activism, N’Dour has influenced generations of musicians, and is one of the most celebrated African musicians.

In his remarks to the class of 2024, N’Dour invited them to take part in shaping a better world.

“My career has always been guided by a clear philosophy; that of singing love, peace, and commitment,” N’Dour said. “Each note, each word in my songs aims to convey a powerful and universal message. Love is the foundation of my songs. My music is a call to collective consciousness, solidarity, and mutual understanding. I deeply believe that education is the pillar on which the future of our societies and respect for the environment depends on. It is essential for the survival and well-being of future generations.

“Whether art, education, or any other path you choose, let’s continue to sing for the love of singing, to preach for peace, and to fight for a future where everyone is respected and understood.”

Known for blending traditional Senegalese mbalax with various global influences, including Cuban rumba, hip hop, jazz, and soul, N’Dour is regarded one of the high priests of African music. His powerful voice and innovative approach bring the ancient griot traditions of Senegal to a broader audience while addressing political and social issues across Africa to the wider world and emphasising the importance of preserving African cultural identity in an interconnected world.

“N’Dour’s career and commitment to public and community service are an inspiration and embody the mission of Berklee, to provide transformative educational experiences that prepare students for purposeful lives and careers as creative leaders in a rapidly changing world,” Pilon said. “We are honoured to have N’Dour join the Berklee family.”

Born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1959, N’Dour joined the Star Band de Dakar, where he played a pivotal role in developing mbalax, at age 16. In 1977, he formed Étoile de Dakar, later known as Super Étoile de Dakar, further popularising this traditional genre. His international career skyrocketed with his solo album, The Guide (Wommat), in 1994, leading to global recognition, and winning a Grammy in 2005 for his album Egypt. He also focused on initiatives in Senegal, establishing a recording studio, a record label, and a media organisation, as well as creating a network of internet cafés.

N’Dour’s contributions extend beyond music to social change, including founding the microfinance organisation Birima, and supporting various global causes, and serving as Senegal’s minister for culture and tourism in 2012.

He has been recognised with numerous awards, including the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale for music in 2017. He has also been honoured at events such as the Danish Music Awards, Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, the Edison Awards, La Mar de Músicas, the MOBO Awards, and Sweden’s Polar Music Prize. His influence extends through his music and his dedication to social and cultural advocacy.

Berklee’s honorary doctorate recipients are recognised for their achievements and influences in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture. 

Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Loretta Lynn, Juan Luis Guerra, Annie Lennox, Paco de Lucia, Carole King, Willie Nelson, George Clinton, Rita Moreno, Lionel Richie, AR Rahman, Missy Elliott, Usher, and Gilberto Santa Rosa, among others.

In the last five years the Valencia campus has awarded honorary doctorates to Imogen Heap, Lila Downs, Gilberto Gil, Alberto Iglesias and Yvette Noel-Schure.

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