Voltaire, the great philosopher of the French Englightenment at the end of the 18th century, once observed that all politicians should learn musical harmony. Sometimes we see the counterpart: Musicians getting into politics. Recently Youssou N’Dour, the “Lion of Senegal”, announced he is running for president of Senegal. He is Senegal’s most famous musician and powerful cultural icon, committed to social issues affecting not only Senegal but all of Africa. He has a state-of-the-art recording studio and production company. He toured the world back in 1986 with Springsteen and other top bands in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now Tour. He’s performed with Peter Gabriel, Neneh Cherry, and his film documentary I Bring What I Love was featured in festivals around the world and won rave reviews. He also won a Grammy for his album Egypt in 2005.
Does he have a chance? Critics will downgrade his efforts by calling attention to the fact that he quit school at 13 and lacks political credentials. He’s challenging the 85 year old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade.
We’ve seen musicians running for president before. In the late 1970’s Fela Anikulapo Kuti attempted a presidential run in Nigeria, but his candidature was rejected. Although phenomenally popular with young Nigerians who admired his stand against corruption endemic in Nigeria, many people did not take him seriously. Even John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie ran–not seriously– for president of the U.S. in 1960. Some collectors still have bumper stickers proving it.
In 2010, Haitian superstar Wyclef Jean of the Fugees attempted to run for president of Haiti, but was turned down because he didn’t meet the residency requirement. He’d spent most of his life in the U.S. . And although he put forth tremendous effort in helping Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake, his lack of spoken French, Creole or otherwise, was seen as hampering any chances of winning the election.
My feelings? We have actors who’ve become Presidents (Reagan), oilmen (Bush 41 & 43). The Philippines have also had actors (Joseph Estrada) and now boxing great Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao is running for President of the Philippines. So why not? I am a longtime fan of Youssou and wish him success in his run for the Presidency.