Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Pop & Hiss goes to the movies: 'Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love'

July 2, 2009 |  9:28 pm

MOVIE REVIEW: This documentary is an exemplary look at the African superstar's life and the fallout over his album 'Egypt.'


Art that spans global divides often relies either on the loveliness of gauzy universals or the shock of gritty minutiae. Chronicling a tumultuous period in the career of an urbane internationalist, the African music superstar Youssou N'Dour, filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi tries to split the difference between these approaches in her documentary "Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love."

She shows a certain weakness for gorgeous words and pictures. N'Dour, who comes off as both highly intelligent and fairly down to earth, still tends to slip into Bono-esque inspirational talk (translated from the French) when interviewed. And Dakar, his hometown, often appears in a colorful, slow-motion haze.

But Vasarhelyi doesn't bury all of her specifics in the feel-good fluff of "we are the world" rhetoric. They surface almost as incidentals that soon prove more powerful than the film's more sweeping statements.

Here is Africa's most popular living musician, getting flustered at the prospect of sacrificing a goat at a family gathering; pulling on a traditional robe after shedding his chic Parisian leisure wear as he prepares to take the stage at Carnegie Hall; adjusting the eyeglasses of his ancient and bedridden grandmother, who raised him and who died during this film's production.

And here he is too playing for audiences across Europe, always making sure to hand the microphone to the immigrants up front when it comes time for crowd participation.

PHOTO: A FORCE IN MUSIC: Youssou N’Dour signs an autograph in Harlem. His life as a musician, favorite son and cultural ambassador is the subject of “I Bring What I Love.” Associated Press