Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour can't have expected his 2004 album Egypt — proudly devout, musically uncharacteristic, and released during Ramadan — to pass without some comment among Muslim compatriots, yet the hagiographic Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love reads like a kind of defense.
Playing up the religious opposition to the record, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's first documentary feature follows N'Dour on tour (powerfully compelling, muezzin-like) and on message (platitudinous and repetitive). The performance excerpts, starting with the head-clearing invocational introduction, are by far the most interesting part of the show, besides sumptuous photographed prayer calls at the holy Touba mosque and affecting moments with N'Dour's grandmother and shadow-casting father.
For all the singer's sincere intentions to build secular-religious bridges, a straight-up concert film might have been a better approach, especially given viewer fatigue with those musicians and their causes. Indeed, the star's avowal of noble intentions and surprise at the controversy tends, through repetition, to convey an air of entitlement to a positive reaction from fans.
Still, N'Dour, who annually headlines the festive Great African Ball in New York, may be the only singer who can mesmerize Senegalese and Western audiences alike with a paean to a 19th-century Sufi hero.