While many may not be familiar with the work of Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour, many people will recognize the contributions he has made on the work of North American and European artists. He has worked with Wyclef Jean, Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel among others, and his voice can be found on Gabriel's hit "In Your Eyes." Youssou is more than just a session musician, he is arguably the most visible face of African music in the world. And as we see in I Bring What I Love, he's not afraid to take a risk or two with that fame.
The documentary film centers around Youssou's efforts in seeing his 2004 album "Egypt" released to audiences. Youssou was compelled to make the album to help illuminate Western audiences on the Islam faith, and made the album with the help of an Egyptian composer and supporting musicians. Yet for the praise the West lavished on the album, he received scorn and his album was ostracized in his native Senegal. Many vendors refused to sell it publicly, and television and radio stations would reduce publicity for it. The perception was that Youssou was mocking Islam and should not be singing about it.
As someone new to his music, it appears from my perspective that not only is this not the case, but Youssou's voice brings a passion and reverence for the faith that few could match. One of the first scenes in the film is of Youssou, singing with no accompaniment, and his voice booms through the audience, who is rapt with attention. It is among the most entrancing experiences you may watch. His musical style is a mix of African griot music (which simply put, is when a musician sings the history of a land or a revered figure in their culture) while incorporating rhythms from Latin America or other areas.
On the "Egypt" album, Youssou used the Arabic influences and styles from composer and orchestral leader Fathy Salama to both praise Islam and discuss influential figures without Youssou's area of Islam called Sufism. Notably Amadou Bamba, who helped lead Senegal in a resistance against French colonialism at the turn of the century is mentioned within Youssou's songs, and the city where he founded the brotherhood which many Senegalese are a part of (Touba) are songs on the album.
Youssou's inspiration for the album also lies in part to the late Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, whose vocal range was legendary and whose music seemed to inspire Arabic unity to a degree. Youssou is of the frame of mind that music can and should be used to celebrate anything in life, and that apparently Islam is not one of those things. He feels that it should be celebrated with every other religion, and while he receives initial resistance upon the album's release, he is vindicated when he wins the Grammy for Best World Music album, his first win in five nominations. The country celebrates his win and perhaps, move a little closer to accepting the album for its intentions, just as the West seems to have with his music serving as the perfect gateway.
What makes I Bring What I Love a wholly compelling viewing experience, aside from the music, is how much access Youssou gives the cameras. We see him meet with his parents, along with his grandmother, along with his sacrificing a sheep as part of a Muslim ritual. However, throughout it all, Youssou maintains optimism and a thrill for the music and faith that is admirable even from an outsiders' perspective, and that is what shines through in the film.
That sums up the title of the film, which comes from Youssou during an interview. He loves his music and his faith, and both are given a viewing that not many outsiders have seen before. His music is intriguing, fascinating and powerful, and you can say the same things about his faith. He brings what he loves, and these passions make for an emotional experience.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, I Bring What I Love has many "fly on the wall" perspectives, done without commentary or bias, and includes interviews with Youssou and other key figures in his life. You also get the chance to see Dakar, Touba and other Senegal locales that look fine on the disc. There is little in the way of edge enhancement or artifact issues here, and any flaws in the presentation appear inherent with the filming. I'd guess that some of the film (maybe most of it) was filmed with high def cameras, but that's baseless speculation on my part. The result is a slick looking documentary.
The disc comes with your choice of two-channel stereo or six-channel surround tracks, both of the Dolby variety. The performances are done smartly, with crowd noise subtly appearing in the rear channels to envelop the listener, and the interview segments sound fine and are free of distortion.
The extras are many additional footage not in the film, specifically a full rehearsal of one of the songs from "Egypt" (8:39) and a tribute to Kulthum (3:57). A performance of the song "Birima" is next (7:56) along with Youssou's meeting with Jean in the studio (3:25). Recording "The Messenger" follows (6:54), and a photo shoot Youssou did with Oxfam (:40) completes the disc.
In I Bring What I Love, Youssou N'Dour does just that, and you can't help but marvel at his faith, love and music, which is given ample time and decent candor, sometimes all at the same time. If you're interested in different musical genres and haven't come across this one, this is definitely worth checking out. If you're not, the film serves as a damn good documentary nonetheless.