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Retour à Gorée (2007)

Because jazz is the miraculous product of the horror of slavery, Youssou N'Dour returned to the slave route and the music they created, in search of new inspiration. Accompanied by the ... See full summary »

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Credited cast:
Youssou N'Dour ... Himself
Moncef Genoud Moncef Genoud ... Himself
Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye Boubacar Joseph Ndiaye ... Himself
Idris Muhammad Idris Muhammad ... Himself
James Cammack James Cammack ... Himself
Pyeng Threadgill Pyeng Threadgill ... Herself
Grégoire Maret Grégoire Maret ... Himself
Amiri Baraka Amiri Baraka ... Himself
Ernie Hammes Ernie Hammes ... Himself
Wolfgang Muthspiel Wolfgang Muthspiel ... Himself
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux Big Chief Monk Boudreaux ... Himself
Karfa Diallo Karfa Diallo ... Himself


Because jazz is the miraculous product of the horror of slavery, Youssou N'Dour returned to the slave route and the music they created, in search of new inspiration. Accompanied by the blind Swiss pianist Moncef Genoud and the Director of the Gorée House of Slaves Museum, Joseph N'Diaye, the Senegalese singer wrote new songs during this initiatory voyage which took him to the USA then to Europe. At Gorée, an island just off the Senegalese coast and symbol of the slave trade, his memorable concert marked the end of this quest and the start of a new challenge: making today's generation aware of the tragedy of slavery, the importance of not forgetting and the need for reconciliation. Written by Anonymous

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Plot Keywords:

senegal | place name in title | See All (2) »


Documentary | Music


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Switzerland | Luxembourg


English | French

Release Date:

2007 (Switzerland) See more »

Also Known As:

Return to Gorée See more »

Filming Locations:

Luxembourg See more »

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User Reviews

Flawed, irritating and confusing, but with beauty and emotion
3 February 2008 | by SupercargoSee all my reviews

It is a Frank Zappa axiom that "music journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." If you ever needed proof that musicians can't talk, this is the film for you. Repeated attempts at profundity stumble over themselves to end up in monosyllabic comments delivered in awestruck voices: "Wow." (Thank you, Idris Muhammed.) This film is pretentious but, while much of the pontificating from Youssou N'Dour and his gang of merry men (and one token woman) grates, the music saves the day.

The main idea behind the film (what I take to be the main idea, dredged out of the inarticulate commentary) is interesting. To gather a group of musicians from America and Europe and take them on a journey through the different styles of music that grew up in and out of slavery, back to their roots in the music of West Africa, and a concert in the old slave fort of Gorée off the coast of Senegal. We are treated to gospel, blues, jazz and variations of these, including some fantastic drumming both in New Orleans and Senegal. There's also a good deal of N'Dour's own compositions.

Sadly, that's another weakness. It's never entirely clear what N'Dour himself wants to achieve. To some degree, the film appears to be an exercise in self-promotion on N'Dour's part. He wants to play his own music, jazzed up to some degree and performed in the company of a bunch of musicians he admires. He's clearly a little embarrassed by this and early in the film obtains the blessings of the Curator of the Gorée museum.

The clash between the different agendas shows through in several other places. For example, somebody obviously felt that it was not possible to tell the story of black music without involving a gospel choir, but N'Dour and most of his mates are Moslems (a point made repeatedly throughout the film). The whole early sequence involving the black Christians is uncomfortable and then they disappear from the story until the close harmony group (the only black Christians who can hold a tone?) turn up in Dakar at the end of the film. (To be fair, they turn up triumphantly and perform the best piece in the film.) If the story of black music needs to nod in the direction of gospel, why not also in the direction of Latin America? Where are the black musical influences from the Caribbean and Brazil? Samba? Reggae? Then there's Europe. Here the black diaspora doesn't seem to have produced any musicians of calibre, since N'Dour chooses to draft in Austrian guitarist and a trumpet player from Luxemburg. Are they in the team just because N'Dour has played with him before? What I personally found most irritating, though, was the long sequence which tried to recreate a kind of 60s beatnik/black power/Nation of Islam cultural happening in the New York home of Amir Baraka (a.k.a. Leroi Jones). Hearing people talk about the importance of "knowing your history", and then in the next breath perpetuating ignorance. Why do so many African-Americans believe that taking an Arabic name is an assertion of their African roots? And why do they think Arabic Islam is so much more admirable than European Christianity? Who do they think established the trade in African slaves in the first place? The film doesn't have much to say about the situation in West Africa today beyond the platitude that "present conditions" are a consequence of all the brightest and best having been shipped away for 300 years. The Senegalese appear to be a poor but happy, musical gifted folk, friendly and welcoming, respectful of their elders (and not above fleecing the visiting Americans in the fish market). Is this ethnic stereotyping or just my imagination? There is no comment on the armed guard that N'Dour and the camera crew seem to need in the opening sequence as they walk through the streets of Dakar.

There is also a strong implication in the film that the slaves who were taken from Dakar came from Dakar. The similarity between the folk drumming style of New Orleans and the folk drumming style of Senegal is cited in evidence. The last thing the slaves heard before they were shipped away was the drumming of their homeland, bidding them farewell. Except, of course, that by and large, the slaves shipped from Dakar did not come from Dakar. They were captured or traded from the interior by the coastal Senegalese and sold to merchants of whichever European power currently held the Gorée slave fort. The people of Dakar are not the descendents of Africans who escaped the slave trade, they are just as likely – more likely – to be descendents of the people who sold their black brethren into slavery and exile.

The two agenda's clash again in the final part of the film. There are two separate endings. On the one hand, the concert which N'Dour and Co have been rehearsing and preparing along the way and which they deliver in the courtyard of the Gorée slave fort. The other end comes when the Harmony Harmoneers sing the spiritual "Return to Glory", in the seaward doorway of the slave fort. This is deeply moving, even if it is hard to believe the performance is quite as spontaneous as it appears.

This is a film that is flawed. Unclear of the story it is trying to tell and tugged in different directions. Irritating, confusing, beautiful and emotional by turns. Watch it (listen to it) for the music and the feeling, but don't expect enlightenment or intellectual rigour.

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