Academic journal article African Studies Review

Youssou N'Dour: Return to Gorée

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Youssou N'Dour: Return to Gorée

Article excerpt

DOCUMENTARIES

Pierre-Yves Borgeaud. Youssou N'Dour: Return to Gorée. 2006. Senegal, United States, Europe. French and English. 108 min. ArtMattan Productions. $245.00

In this 2006 documentary, the internationally recognized Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour tours the world with the well-known Tunisian jazz pianist Moncef Genoud. N'Dour's road trip is inspired by a desire to trace what he terms "sa musique" (his music) across the Atlantic to the African diaspora. "Mes chansons son liées à la diaspora noire" (my songs are connected to the Black Diaspora), he notes in the opening scenes. By tracing links between music brought by slaves shackled in the underbellies of ships as they made their passage to the coasts of the America, Haiti, and Brazil, N'Dour seeks to understand how cultural influences, history, and languages imposed changes on "la musique qui est partie d'ici" (the music that left from here). "Here," for N'Dour, is the coast of Senegal, specifically Gorée Island, where millions were held before being forced into passage. What happened to the music of Senegal once it left through "la porte sans retour" (the door of no return) on Gorée Island is the resounding question weaving its way through N'Dour's narrative.

With Genoud, N'Dour sets out first to Atlanta to study the gospel music of black churches throughout the region. Singing with Michael Turner, a pastor and gospel singer, N'Dour learns that Negro spirituals were meant to be uplifting and also to commemorate those who lost their lives during the time of slavery. "These 'African songs' are work songs and sorrow songs," he says, and they became the foundation of the Blues. Traveling from Atlanta to New Orleans and then New York, N'Dour gathers singers and jazz musicians, all the while peppering these musical forms with his own Senegalese rhythms. N'Dour's internationally assembled group, which now includes the legendary New Orleans jazz drummer Idris Muhammad and the famous guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, travels to Europe, staging concerts in Bordeaux, France, and Luxembourg before returning to Senegal. …

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