Every film should open with Youssou N’Dour singing. It’s a surefire way of ensuring that the audience stays hooked to the film to the end. At least I know I will stay to the end.
Every personality documentary film should make you feel comfortable and engage you. The director should make you love or loathe the character – it doesn’t really matter what – and you should just feel justified to do so and comfortable with your decision. In the case of Retour à Gorée (2007) which was shown at the Amakula Kampala Film Festival yesterday, the director Pierre-Yves Borgeaud hit all the right notes.
Retour à Gorée (Return to Goree) is the story of Youssou N’Dour’s journey following the epic trail by slaves from Africa and the USA and by the jazz music they invented. Youssou N’Dour’s challenge is to bring back to Africa a jazz repertoire and to sing those tunes in Goree, the island in Senegal that today symbolizes the slave trade.
On his journey, Youssou N’Dour is joined by a brilliant cast of jazz artists including Tunisian pianist Moncef Genoud who helps to reinvent Youssou’s sound. Others in the cast are renowned New Orleans drummer Idris Muhammad, bassist James Cammack of the Ahmad Jamal Trio, as well as Pyeng Threadgill, Grégoire Maret, Ernie Hammes, and Wolfgang Muthspiel, also of the Ahmad Jamal Trio.
Youssou N’Dour travels from Goree to Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Luxembourg and back to Goree, incorporating jazz and gospel undertones to his music. The film climaxes with a concert played at the ruins of Goree.