Youssou N'Dour to Receive Honorary Doctorate at Berklee Valencia’s 2024 Commencement

The ceremony will be held on Monday, July 8. 

April 12, 2024

Berklee Valencia will present an honorary Doctor of Music degree to Senegalese singer, songwriter, composer, actor, businessman, and politician Youssou N’Dour at its 2024 commencement ceremony on Monday, July 8, at 6:00 p.m. CET at the Auditori del Palau de les Arts. 

N’Dour is one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. He will be recognized for helping to define the music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries and for bringing the music and traditions of Senegal to an international audience. Through his music, philanthropy, and political activism, he has influenced generations of musicians.

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.

At the ceremony, N’Dour will have the opportunity to address the graduating class of 2024. Commencement festivities will begin on Saturday, July 6, at 10:30 a.m. with La Fira de Berklee, a celebratory event featuring the talent of the Berklee Valencia students at the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.  

Youssou N’Dour

Youssou N’Dour is a legendary African musician renowned for his fusion of traditional Senegalese mbalax with diverse global influences, from Cuban rumba to hip-hop, jazz, and soul. His voice resonates with power and purpose, presenting the ancient griot traditions of Senegal in a fresh light while also carrying political and social messages across Africa to the wider world.

Born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1959, N’Dour began singing at religious ceremonies and quickly gained prominence performing outside dance clubs in Dakar. At age 16, he joined the Star Band de Dakar, where he played a pivotal role in pioneering mbalax, a genre that combined Senegalese traditional forms with modern elements.

In 1977, N’Dour formed Étoile de Dakar, which later became Super Étoile de Dakar. Under his leadership, the group further Africanized and popularized mbalax, incorporating elements like the Senegalese sabar drums and distributing their rhythms between the keyboards and electric guitars. His lyrics increasingly addressed pressing political and social issues, emphasizing the importance of preserving African cultural identity in an interconnected world.

The band performed across Europe and North America, collaborating with artists such as Peter Gabriel and participating in the Human Rights Now! tour and other events. 

N’Dour's solo career skyrocketed with the release of his 1994 album, The Guide (Wommat), leading to global recognition. He then focused on initiatives in Senegal, establishing a recording studio, a record label, a media organization that included a radio station and a newspaper, and a network of internet cafés. N’Dour continued to engage internationally, organizing the Great African Ball and releasing numerous acclaimed albums, including 2004’s Egypt, which earned him a Grammy Award. In 2012, he served as Senegal’s minister for culture and tourism under President Macky Sall.

Throughout his career, N’Dour has not only captivated audiences with his mesmerizing voice and innovative music but also used his platform to advocate for social change. He joined the Fondation Chirac’s honor committee and founded Birima, a microfinance organization, in 2008. The following year, he released a song, “Wake Up,” under a Creative Commons license to help IntraHealth International bring open-source health applications to Africa. He is also a member of the Canadian charity Artists Against Racism and a supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organization that advocates for democratic reformation of the United Nations.

In 2017, N’Dour was awarded the Praemium Imperiale for music by the Japan Art Association in recognition of his lifetime achievements. He has also been honored at 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.