N’Diaye, whose real name was Mamadou N’diaye, began playing the sabar or the tam-tam, a traditional Senegalese drum, in the 1930s and for years also worked as a plumber. His father opposed his ambitions and the two did not shake hands for seven years, N’Diaye said in a 2010 interview. “Every day, the tam-tams played for marriages, baptisms, and circumcisions. Whenever I left the house, the sounds distracted me. It’s as if they said, ‘Doudou, don’t go to school, you must come and play the tam-tam,'” he said of those early days.

He went on to become one of West Africa’s most celebrated musicians, developing over 500 new rhythms, and establishing a style known for its complex, constantly shifting patterns. He collaborated with Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, and more recently Nine Inch Nails. He was named a “living human treasure” by the United Nations in 2006 for his promotion of Senegalese culture.

N’diaye’s proudest contribution may be fathering a musical dynasty. Many of the 38 children he is said to have fathered continue to play. Troupes like the Drummers of West Africa are made up of his children and grandchildren, as well as an all-female group called Les Rosettes.

“I thank the Good Lord,” N’Diaye said in a 2010. “My children have learned the language of percussion well. I can even no longer play and just listen to them.”

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