Directed by: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi | 102 minutes | music, documentary | Actors: Youssou N’Dour, Peter Gabriel, Moustapha Mbaye, Kabou Guèye, Fathi Salama
It is bitter that the “tolerance for the Islamic faith” that Youssou N’Dour tries to promote with his album “Egypt” seems to have mainly taken place abroad, but not among his brothers and sisters in their own country. After all, his album was widely embraced abroad, while in his native country Senegal the (Islamic) population itself initially did not like his musical odes to his religious forefathers. But it may be a bit more complicated. As an inspiring singer, N’Dour is a celebrity in his own country, and throughout Africa, while the lyrics he plays on “Egypt” have a content that is undoubtedly appreciated by the majority of the Muslim population. Why then that resistance? And what exactly is the reason that he had enormous success abroad with this religiously tinted album? Is the explanation simply that music crosses borders? This kind of intriguing evokes Elizabeth Chai Vasarhely’s documentary, and while not all issues are explored satisfactorily, N’Dour’s message of hope and the power of his voice, mind, and music are enough to make Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love ‘to make a warm documentary about experiencing and propagating the Islamic faith and the binding power of music in a positive way.
In the first few minutes of Vasarhely’s documentary, N’Dour delivers to many Africans an inspiring speech – almost a sermon – on the need for fraternization, positive thinking and honoring the strong ancestors of today’s Africans. The breathlessly watching, and after the speech wildly cheering, African spectators are clearly impressed by this moral inspiration. These are goosebumps moments, also for the viewer.
After this, Youssou N’Dour is presented to the viewer with information about his childhood, wishes and successes. It is interesting to find out where this man comes from in a literal and figurative sense. His grandmother, for example, was also a so-called “griot”, a singer / preacher who conveys African history in a narrative way to fellow human beings and new generation (s). Especially the big, inspiring names should not be forgotten.
Although he has always remained true to his “roots”, N’Dour has grown into a true pop artist. Many people will know him mainly from that one hit with Neneh Cherry, “7 Seconds”, and for them this documentary is a reasonable eye-opener. N’Dour is big and knows how to touch many with his passionate performance, which is understandable to anyone who has listened to the man’s almost hypnotic voice for a few minutes. Youssou N’Dour breathes and lives music. In addition, he also lives for his religion and that is why he got the somewhat controversial idea of combining these values.
In the Muslim faith, however, it is “not done” to cast religiously tinted texts into musical form. But what exactly is the problem if it’s all done respectfully? In the Christian faith, of course, this has been happening for a long time, and N’Dour also states that imams also basically sing their sermons. So according to him it is a misconception that music and (the Islamic) religion have nothing to do with each other. Yet there is resistance. People are not used to it. Pop songs about Islam, that’s not possible, is it? Then a song is played on the radio by N’Dour in which he sings “Allah, Allah”, and then a song about g-spots is played: that context or that combination is indigestible, someone explains in the documentary. .
According to N’Dour and the collaborators on the album, it’s just fear and ignorance. Above all, it becomes clear that nothing is as important, as “Babel” attempted to show in different ways, as communication and really listening to each other. When the Senegalese learned that Youssou N’dour, a pop singer, was recording video clips for the Egypt album, it was immediately assumed that it would feature half-naked ladies. Before they knew what it was all about and what everything would look like, wild conclusions were drawn. A bit like Wilders’ movie “Fitna”.
What’s interesting is that “Egypt” was very successful abroad. But why? Are the Muslims there more lenient? Or did people mainly listen to the music and was the content less important? After all, in the audience of the concerts in Brussels, Milan, and New York, there are also many white, non-Muslim listeners, who all love the music. It is unfortunate that the documentary does not conduct some more research in this area. Both the reception at home and abroad could have been treated in more depth. But N’Dour himself also had a wat a broader picture. After an initially interesting, but brief biographical sketch, it still boils down to the frustration associated with N’Dour’s mission to find acceptance for his blend of music and faith. Journalist Robert Christgau briefly explains the success of the album “Egypt” by saying that it clearly illustrates the variety of Islam and Sufism. It is this thought that should serve as a guideline. Coupled with the idea that music is food for the soul and can bind people and transmit any kind of content, this is the main thing that takes the viewer away after seeing “Youssou N” Dour: I Bring What I Love “. And that it pays to be open to new things and new ways. That is the way to hope and positive change.