In a bit of felicitous timing, "Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love" presents the perfect counterpoint to the eschatological musings of the new Coen brothers comedy that also opens Friday. It turns out that N'Dour, in addition to being Senegal's most famous musician, best known to Western audiences for collaborations with Peter Gabriel and Neneh Cherry, is also a devout Muslim and, as this engaging documentary demonstrates, an eminently serious man.
Offering brief tutorials in the strain of Sufi Islam practiced by most Senegalese, as well as the country's griot tradition and colonial history, "I Bring What I Love" documents N'Dour's "Egypt" album, which he produced with a group of Cairo-based musicians, performing songs that paid homage to Senegal's most important Muslim leader, Chaikh Amadou Bamba. After delaying the record's release because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, N'Dour toured the world in a show that became a means of reconciliation, bringing a new, transcendent view of Islam to the world. Meanwhile, "Egypt" received a controversial welcome in N'Dour's home country, where even relatively liberal Sufi Muslims rejected the marriage of music and religion.
"I Bring What I Love" is a stirring, often visually striking film, especially when it travels to a massive Muslim pilgrimage in the holy city of Touba, Senegal. But by far the most powerful element is N'Dour's lone voice, a thing of high, pure beauty that feels at once ancient and new. When he sings, an otherwise earnestly conventional film becomes a vehicle of incantatory power.
-- Ann Hornaday (Friday, Oct. 9, 2009)
Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love PG, 102 minutes Contains thematic elements and brief smoking. In English, French, Wolof and Arabic with subtitles. At the Avalon.