Senegal: Popular singer boycotted and threatened by religous groups




Popular singer boycotted and threatened by religous groups

A documentary film tells the story of how Youssou N’Dour’s 2004-album ‘Egypt’ won a Grammy in USA but caused controversy in his homeland Senegal, where it became the subject of a boycott and was accused in the media of insulting Islam, arguing that pop and religious music should not mix.

‘Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love’ is a documentary film by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi which opened in New York, USA, on 12 June 2009.

About 10 years ago, the famous Senegalese singer, known for his secular pop songs mixed with traditional Mbalax rhythms, decided he wanted to explore his Islamic faith in his music. So he recorded the album ‘Egypt’ which featured such tracks as ‘Allah’ and ‘Touba — Daru Salaam’. Touba is the name of a holy city in Senegal.

“False rumors spread that Mr. N’Dour had brought naked women to film videos at religious sites,” film director Chai Vasarhelyi told the Wall Street Journal.

Others objected to combining pop songs with religious themes. In the wake of such talk, cassettes of the album were returned by stores, radio stations refused to play it and sales were poor compared with those of Youssou N’Dour’s previous releases.

Another chance

“The movie finds the musician at a crisis moment in his career,” Chai Vasarhelyi said. But Youssou N’Dour, confident that his work would win over listeners if it was given a fair hearing, played songs from the album all around the world, including Europe and the US. It eventually won a Grammy award, his first, and in the wake of this honour, many Senegalese decided to give the album another chance.

“It was big for us, it was big for the country,” Youssou N’Dour says of his Grammy win.

“People around the world are grappling with the notion of the place of religion in politics and society,” says Chai Vasarhelyi. “What’s remarkable about Youssou is that he managed to work through it. There was forward movement. People in Senegal reconsidered the album.”

Threatened with lawsuit

Reuters’ Edith Honan reported that when Youssou N’Dour joined other members of the Mouride brotherhood, a branch of African Sufi Islam, on the annual pilgrimage to Senegal’s holy city of Touba, he was shunned.

Descendants of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, a Muslim mystic, poet and pacifist who founded the Mouride brotherhood in the 1880s, even threatened N’Dour with a lawsuit, though the threat was later called a misunderstanding.

Mouridism is widely practiced in Senegal and Gambia and counts several million adherents. It focuses on the mystical elements of Islam and emphasizes the role of a spiritual guide, or marabout.


Ironically, in recording ‘Egypt’, Youssou N’Dour said he was inspired to introduce a global audience to music that “praises the tolerance of my religion”.

Youssou N’Dour recorded the album prior to the Twin Tower attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York, but delayed its release to avoid any association between the music and the attacks.

Premiere 12 June 2009 in USA

The documentary film about the Senegalese singer opened in limited release on 12 June 2009 in New York before rolling out to more cities in the US later in the summer.

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi is an American-born filmmaker who spent her childhood between New York and Rio de Jainero. Graduated from Princeton in 2000. She made the film with a ‘shoestring budget’ of 1.5 million US dollars.

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Youssou N’Dour

Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love — trailer

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The film’s offical website:


WNYC, Soundcheck – 5 June 2009:

‘Youssou N’Dour’ (23 minutes radio report)


Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘I Bring What I Love’

Afropop Worldwide – June 2009:

‘Review of Youssou N’Dour’s “I Bring What I Love” by Banning Eyre’

Entertainment Daily – 7 June 2009:

‘African music star who ignited controversy with lyrics performs in NY as part of arts festival’

Wall Street Journal – 5 June 2009:

‘Putting Faith in His Music’

Youssou N’Dour’s official home page::

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