Two Arts Journalism Fellowships « PREV | NEXT »: Critic Fired For Reviewing Movie

April 3, 2009

Zoom In on Smartphone

I recent caught Chai Vasarhelyi's Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love at a sparsely populated Magno Screening Room in Manhattan. Ran into an old friend who expressed the hope that the music would be like (1990's) Set and not (1994's) The Guide as if N'Dour's decade at the Nonesuch label hadn't existed--and who knowing that smidgen was more expert than 95 if not 100 percent of the other film critics who'd cover the film if the film got lucky. It deserves to. Just by offering onscreen translations, Vasarhelyi clarifies stuff about N'Dour that even someone as expert as moi doesn't always remember--basically, how didactic and moralistic his nevertheless catchy and kinetic songs are. We also meet his extended family, especially his stern dad and feeble, heroic 96-year-old griot grandma, who died while the film was in process--but never the wife who produced the son who eventually accompanied him to mosque. Vasarhelyi herself was new to the music and making it up as she went along, hitting N'Dour just as his 2004 Egypt project was coming to fruition. First thing I learned was something I don't recall the Nonesuch publicity of the time making clear--that the Cairo sessions where most of Egypt was recorded were pre-9/11, then held till the time seemed right years later. (Did I ask anybody that question when I covered? Didn't occur to me. I was pretty busy boning up on Sufism.) The other was that Egypt was very controversial in Senegal, where N'Dour is a major hero but where clerical hotshots condemned him for integrating religious lyrics and secular music.

Illustrating the controversy were shots of Senegalese newspaper stories, their headlines subtitled. I thought I'd been taken out of the film when I was unable to provide similar paper-and-ink documentation of the column I wrote about Egypt, but apparently the Voice finally came up with a copy, and there I was telling N'Dour how his album documented the variety of not just Islam but Sufism (next time I'll wear a nicer shirt). I wonder what the digital equivalent of this cinematic trope will be. (ZOOM IN ON KINDLE). And speaking of obsolescent cultural artifacts, the climax of the film comes when Egypt wins a Grammy. (CLOSE-UP OF GRAMMY TV COVERAGE IN DAKAR, WHERE IT IS PROBABLY ABOUT 5 IN THE MORNING. PHONE RINGS. NDOUR'S AMERICAN REP INFORMS HIM THAT HE WON GRAMMY EVEN THOUGH TV SHOW NEVER MENTIONED IT.) Somehow, the Grammy defused the Senegalese situation. There's a hilarious shot of that silly piece of brass going through the X-ray machine at the Dakar airport. There's a parade. N'Dour is invited to a state dinner with the president. He gets to duet with the nation's most prominent religious singer. (RELIGIOUS SINGER LEAVES ROOM. CAMERA FOLLOWS. HE IS WEEPING, APPARENTLY WITH JOY.)

Film crits, those who survive--worthy of coverage. Music crits--back your colleagues up or volunteer yourself. Assuming you know something about N.Dour. Which by now you probably should.
April 3, 2009 5:24 PM | | Comments (0)

Leave a comment


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


    ARTicles ARTicles is a project of 
    the National Arts Journalism Program, an association of some 500 journalists in the United States. Our group blog is a place for arts and cultural journalists to share ideas and information, to celebrate what we do, and to make the case for its continuing value. ARTicles is edited by Laura Collins-Hughes. To contact her, click here.

    ARTicles Bloggers Meet our bloggers: Sasha Anawalt, MJ Andersen, Alicia Anstead, Laura Bleiberg, Larry Blumenfeld, Jeanne Carstensen, Robert Christgau, Laura Collins-Hughes, Thomas Conner, Lily Tung Crystal, Richard Goldstein, Patti Hartigan, Glenn Kenny, Wendy Lesser, Ruth Lopez, Nancy Malitz, Douglas McLennan, Tom Moon, Abe Peck, Peter Plagens, John Rockwell, Werner Trieschmann, Lesley Valdes and Douglas Wolk. more

    NAJP NAJP is America's largest organization dedicated to the advancement of arts and cultural journalism. The NAJP has produced research, publications and discussions and works to bring together journalists, artists, news executives, cultural organization administrators, funders and others concerned with arts and culture in America today. more

    Join NAJP Join America's largest organization of arts journalists. Here's how more

see all archives