This film is part biography of the immensely popular, African singer Youssou N’Dour, and part documentary of his tour to support his controversial religious album “Egypt.” The film opens with a stirring song that arrives with no context. 2 minutes into the film and Youssou’s amazing voice gives me goosebumps…we are off to a great start.
After the film establishes Youssou’s history, which consisted of a mix of him rebelling against tradition to pursue a career in music while always returning to his family, especially his beloved grandmother, and rooting himself in the religious and cultural traditions that guides their lives, the film spends the majority of its time detailing the journey of creating and promoting his “Egypt” album, which is entirely about his Muslim religion.
The album came as a shock to his hometown fans as he was more a pop star than religious figure, but it was ironically embraced by Western cultures despite arriving just after 9/11 (the album was actually delayed because of that tragic event) and being a strong promotion of Muslim life and ideals. The West embraced it such that it won the Grammy for Best World Album and granted him an International tour. Youssou is firm in his beliefs and religious dedication but also speaks greatly as a representative of his nation and several organizations about modern ideals and numerous political topics such as Medical Funding and Women’s Rights. Youssou has lived his whole life confirming his dedication to Islam but also rebelling against some traditions that he deems unfair, which have made him a brave icon to many and controversial figure to a few.
The film is well crafted and moves along at a healthy pace. Of course, it helps that each second spent without his music leaves you pining for its returning as the performances in this film are infectious and addictive. They along are reason enough to watch this interesting story of an artist who is a hero to a great many.
Widescreen 1.78:1. This film is wonderfully shot. Aside from some found footage here and there, the picture is crystal clear.
Sound is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 stereo. I always stress on this site how great sound should be simply par for the course when it comes to anything about music. There should be no more excuses not to have 5.1 and this film delivers EXACTLY what I like to hear in a filmed concert. Youssou’s voice is foremost in the mix and soars over all the speakers as both the indoor and (especially) outdoor concert experience is recreated wonderfully. A shining example for other music films.
Trailers for other releases by the film’s distributor.
Each of the items listed below are all deleted and/or extended scenes but are not labeled as such in the DVD:
Rehearsal for First Live Performance: Extended scene of Youssou meeting his new orchestra in Morocco and staring the first rehearsals. The best part is when several languages fly around as the musicians wish to understand the meaning of the opening song.
“Asak” – homage to Umm Kulthum: Backstage footage of a musical tribute to the iconic Egyptian singer who first inspired Youssou to perform.
“Birima”: Extended footage of a wonderful song played in many nations.
A visit with Wyclef Jean: A scene of Youssou recording a cameo for Wyclef’s latest album. Very nice but clearly cut as it does not fit into the narrative of the film.
Recording “The Messenger” with griot singer Moustapha Mbaye: An extended scene of a bonus track to the “Egypt” album made post-Grammy awards with his hometown’s prime worship singer.A moment where Moustahpa leaves the studio in tears of joy demonstrates the passion these men feel for their religion and for music.
Oxfam photo shoot: Further evidence of Youssou’s involvement and relationship with Live 8 alumni Bono, Thom Yorke and others. Cut for narrative purposes like the Wyclef scene I assume.
Youssou is a brave icon as he speaks his mind no matter the situation. This film is entirely in Youssou’s defense but never ceases to be candid and honest about who he is and what he feels he can represent. Very much worth investigating (and boy does it make you want to hear more music).