Legendary African Musician Youssou N’Dour Receives Honorary Degree at Berklee Valencia

The Senegalese singer, songwriter, composer, actor, businessman, and politician Youssou N’Dour was honored at Berklee Valencia's commencement ceremony on July 8. 

July 9, 2024

Berklee Valencia’s Executive Director Simone Pilon presented an honorary Doctor of Music degree to Senegalese singer, songwriter, composer, actor, businessman, and politician Youssou N’Dour on Monday, July 8, at the commencement ceremony for the master’s degree programs at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain. 

Through his music, philanthropy, and political activism, N’Dour has influenced generations of musicians, and is one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. This honor was presented to N’Dour to recognize 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. 

"My career has always been guided by a clear philosophy; that of singing love, peace, and commitment. Each note, each word in my songs aims to convey a powerful and universal message. Love is the foundation of my songs," said N'Dour. "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 relays. It is essential for the survival and well-being of future generations." 

N'Dour closed his remarks to the class of 2024 by inviting them all to get involved in their own battles for a better world. “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 a legendary African musician. 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 emphasizing the importance of preserving African cultural identity in an interconnected world.

“Youssou 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. We are honored to have Youssou N’Dour join the Berklee family,” said Pilon. 

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 popularizing 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 2004 for his album Egypt. He also focused on initiatives in Senegal, establishing a recording studio, a record label, and a media organization, as well as creating a network of internet cafés. 

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

Throughout his career, he has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale for music in 2017. He has been honored 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 captivating music and his dedication to social and cultural advocacy. 

At the commencement ceremony, 135 graduates from 37 countries received Master of Music degrees in contemporary performance (production concentration)music production, technology, and innovation; and scoring for film, television, and video games; and Master of Arts degrees in global entertainment and music business. This year as well, six students completed Berklee’s post-master’s program

Berklee’s honorary doctorate recipients are recognized for their impact on the global music and arts community and for demonstrating sustained professional excellence over the course of their career. Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Loretta Lynn, Juan Luis Guerra, Annie Lennox, Paco de Lucia, Carole King, Willie Nelson, George Clinton, Rita Moreno, Lionel Richie, A. R. 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.