Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi‘s documentary, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love , focuses on the release of the Senegalese singer’s controversial 2004 album Egypt, and the performances he did in support of that CD.
Recorded before Sept. 11, 2001, Egypt features and the film depicts N’Dour praising the peaceful and positive values he gets from Sufi Islam and such Senegalese religious figures as Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. To make the point that music and Islam don’t need to be at odds, he spurns his band’s typical instrumentation in favor of noted Egyptian arranger Fathy Salama’s 14 piece-orchestra.
While N’Dour expected to have to defend the album overseas, the film finds him rejected at home, where some felt Egypt‘s mixture of Islam and pop culture was blasphemy.
The film features striking color-filled images of the annual religious pilgrimage Mourides, members of a Senegalese Sufi order, make to the country’s Touba mosque. There’s touching footage of N’Dour bonding with his ninetysomething grandmother, as well as clips of N’Dour onstage and backstage gorgeously wailing his odes of prayer in Wolof, French, and English around the world.
The movie ends on an up note as N’Dour’s first-ever Grammy for the album causes his compatriots to revise their take on Egypt and leads to the album’s re-release.
Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (2008), 102 min; through Thursday 10-15 at the Avalon Theater, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW. (202) 966-6000