Youssou N’Dour: Goodwill and Music Ambassador of the World

16 08 2009

It penetrates. It uplifts. It feels joyful. Grammy award-winning Youssou N’Dour’s music. Mostly sung in his African Senegal native tongue of Youssou N'Dour Sept 2004Wolof, one does not need a translator to feel this music. Described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 as “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” Youssou N’Dour is the subject of a documentary called I Bring What I Love, which was shown at many prestigious film festivals around the world. It is now being shown in theaters across the country and I had the privilege of seeing it on Friday.

I received an email from UNICEF USA about the movie. Youssou is an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and, per the the email, “advocates for children at home and abroad, giving benefit performances and participating in social mobilization and advocacy campaigns. He has been a consistent supporter of the Roll-Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative launch in 1998 to significantly reduce the number of malaria deaths.”

The email also had this to say about the movie:

Enjoy the tantalizing beats, be inspired by Youssou’s compelling story, but also go see the film because there is more at stake. It’s all too rare that an African or Muslim subject gets this kind of film making and this kind of attention. Amid the images in the U.S. media of African AIDS, war and poverty, this film is a chance for Americans to see a positive, realistic representation of contemporary Africa. In addition, it is all too rare that stories go below the surface and give nuanced views of a more tolerant Islam.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Youssou N’Dour is is often credited with introducing the music of Africa to countless new audiences. Now the innovative Sengalese singer, composer and producer is the subject of a new documentary film, ‘I Bring What I Love’, currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit and in cinemas.

Director and producer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s cameras followed Mr. N’Dour for three years, documenting family life, concert appearances around the world, the infectious energy of Senegal and his Sufi Muslim faith.

The resulting music-driven journey unfolds at an extraordinary moment in N’Dour’s career, when his most personal, spiritual album to date sparks controversy at home when it is released.

Youssou is revered in Senegal and all of Africa, but originally the Egypt album, which was loved all over the world, was rejected in his home country. Considering it a testimony of his faith, he released it during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; many considered it blasphemous. It was only after the album won a Grammy…Youssou’s first…that it was accepted.

I was privileged to attend the one showing in Austin that was followed by a discussion of the movie. About 20 former Peace Corps volunteers were present as well as several native Sengalese. The discussion was lively and intelligent, as would be expected from the worldly, curious, and open-minded people who stayed to participate. I came away with a new appreciation for the country of Senegal and a renewed interest in Youssou N’Dour.

Not only is he a world-renowned musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Youssou N’Dour also:

  • Organized in 1985 a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela
  • Performed in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour
  • Acted in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace about the abolitionist William Wilberforce
  • Performed at three Live 8 concerts
  • Worked with the United Nations
  • Advocated for public health (including AIDS/HIV activism) and civil and political stability in Africa
  • Helped change the economic landscape in Senegal through the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
  • Was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 by Time magazine

Check out the movie if you have a chance and definitely check out some of his music. It will make you smile and make you want to get up and dance.

Here is the South by Southwest Film Festival trailer about the movie:



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Tis the Season…for Cutting Girls

5 12 2008

This is not a joyful time of year for girls in Kenya. It’s the cutting season.  Girls 10 years old or younger have their clitoris and sometimes their labia removed so they will be “clean” and to prepare them for marriage. This process is called Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

This barbaric practice, considered a human rights violation by the United Nations, is done to girls as young as two years old with no anesthesia and a razor blade, knife, or even broken glass. Besides the initial severe pain, girls often experience lifelong problems and effects such as shock, excessive bleeding, infection, infertility, higher death rate for newborn babies, and even death.

The World Health Organization estimates that 100 – 140 million women and girls have experienced FGC. 2-3 million more are at risk every year, mostly in 28 countries in Africa, some Middle Eastern countries, some ethnic groups in South America, and Indonesia. FGC is a long-practiced custom and it is difficult to convince women to stop having it done to their daughters or granddaughters. In places where it is common, girls who are not cut are often ostracized.

The country where FGM is most prevalent is Egypt, with 78-97% having experienced it, followed by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mali. Egypt passed a law banning FGM in 2007, as have many other countries. The U.S. passed a federal law banning FGM in 1996.

February 6, 2008 marked the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) fifth International Day against Female Genital Mutilation.  The UN has launched a multi-million dollar program to reduce the practice by 40% over the next seven years.

This video features some village women in Lunsar, Sierra Leone talking about the practice of cutting. Amongst their many startling (to our way of thinking) assertions is that if a girl bleeds excessively from being cut, it means that she is a witch.

Many girls in Kenya have recently fled to churches or rescue centers to wait out the November to December cutting season and escape forced genital mutilation. At this time of joy and celebration, if you’d like to do something to help protect the rights of these girls and women all over the world, consider making a donation to Americans for UNFPA.