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23 novembre 2008

Return to Goree

By Ken Eisner,, November 6, 2008

A documentary by Pierre-Yves Borgeaud. In English, French, and Wolof, with English subtitles. Unrated. Plays Friday to Wednesday, November 7 to 12, at the Vancity Theatre

The title Return to Gorée refers to a small island off the coast of Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour’s home country, from which slaves were bound to a brutal new life in America—the upshot of which we are seeing played out in this month’s U.S. election.

Famous for his work with Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen, our high-voiced musician undertook the journey captured here less for its sociopolitical historicity than for his desire to learn more about jazz. This took him to Luxembourg, where he hooked up with Austrian avant-guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and Swiss piano wiz Moncef Genoud (a blind elf of goodwill), and New Orleans, to grab veteran soul-jazz drummer Idris Muhammad.

Together, they recruit a gospel quartet in Atlanta and folksy young female singer Pyeng Threadgill (daughter of saxman Henry) in New York. The Manhattan stop also finds the musos at an upscale Harlem house party, where there are awkward attempts to revive the fierce spirit of the 1960s. This is rectified by a visit with Amiri Baraka (née LeRoi Jones), who poetically sums up the violently interrupted relationship between Africa and its American offspring.

This is evoked in the ad-hoc group’s return to the place of the title for an emotional outdoor concert. Some of the resulting music, well captured by documentarian Pierre-Yves Borgeaud, is not as memorable as some sounds the well-named N’Dour encounters along the way. The most affecting moment is a painfully beautiful hybrid that occurs spontaneously when the transplanted Georgians spy the stone portal through which Africa’s children were sent to sea. For a few holy minutes, the white-haired churchmen put aside Jesus and sing an Old Testament hymn at sunset. In that moment, you know—and they know—that God was looking the other way.

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