“Ana Youssou?”
Translated “where’s Youssou?” this is a story I wanted to share, in my first post, as a way of describing how Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love came to be.

I met Youssou twice before I started the film, first in Madrid. He invited me to join the band for dinner after a show and burned me a sample of his Egypt album. I followed the band South to Granada where I left Youssou a VHS tape of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary classic, Don’t Look Back, about Bob Dylan, in a manila envelope in his hotel lobby. It sounds idealistic but I felt it was a very real way to share with Youssou the type of film I was interested in making and what type of commitment it was going to require of him. A few weeks later, I received the go ahead from his management and his US label Nonesuch Records, but I hadn’t heard directly from Youssou.

While I was waiting to hear from him, a friend of Youssou’s who lived in Harlem convinced me to hop on plane to Senegal. I did that, and a few days later I arrived in Dakar. Soon I was sitting in a mini-bus outside of Youssou’s famous nightclub – Thiossane (translated “culture”). Turns out my friend offered the tour manager $50 bucks to look out for me.  They told me to sit in the back of the bus and that we would be leaving shortly. It was 11pm. The mini-bus didn’t roll out of the parking lot until 3am.

13 hours later we arrived in Matam. Located on the Senegal / Mauritanian border, Matam is the malaria capital of West Africa – we were there for a Unicef sponsored Youssou concert to promote malaria awareness.
The scene was something between Spinal Tap and an Ousmane Sembene film; No one could find the key to our accommodations - the Matam heat was indescribable and leaving at this point was inconceivable. Someone eventually found the key or broke a window and I had my first kibi (roasted goat) experience. I insisted on using a fork..., which then broke, flew through the air and stabbed the djembe player in the arm.  That night, I shared a twin mattress on the floor with the band’s dancer - the only other woman on the trip.
I never witnessed anything like that concert again. It was breathtaking – a stage in the middle of a deserted field, the only source of light for miles. Everywhere I looked, there were Senegalese kids - most had probably walked miles to hear Youssou perform.  It was a sea of young Senegalese faces in the middle of nowhere.

Around 1:30am I heard the tour manager yelling “Ana Chai” – Where’s Chai? – I was ushered backstage where I saw a silver Toyota 4x4 – the car door opened and out stepped Youssou laughing. He said, “it’s you…” He was completely shocked to see me.

The next day I got a call – to meet Youssou in Dakar. When I arrived, Youssou brought me in to a room with 15 splendidly dressed Senegalese men and a spiritual guide, otherwise known as a Marabout, who appeared to be holding court.  Youssou motioned for me to kneel down in front of the Marabout and explained to him that I was there to make a film about his life and his religion. The Marabout listened and thought for what seemed like ages and then looked directly at me. This was the defining moment of the start of the project because, on that afternoon, while exuding warmth and wisdom, this man addressed the room and blessed the film. Youssou signed the contract the next day. Here we are 4 1/2 years later.