Elvis' impact appeared stylistic at best, however. While a personal tragedy--the death of his wife--slammed KarKar down later in the decade and led to more personal work, his original music incorporated political and nationalistic themes in ways the King's never did: While Mr. Presley crooned about colored leather footwear and falling in love to the delight of screaming co-eds, KarKar called on his fellow countrymen to work for a better, newly independent Mali, while he struggled as a tailor and sold shirts to make ends meet.
At its best, "I'll Sing For You" chisels out a glimpse into the troubled, proud country of Mali itself. Sarasin reveals the landscape and the inhabitants to nearly poetic visual effect, and KarKar's haunting singing voice further enhances the somber mood. But the man himself never pipes up, neither about his own life nor the state of the nation in which he performs. The production notes mention KarKar's general reticence--at one point he even went so far as to refuse to let Sarasin continue to film. (The notes also say he did speak on camera, but Sarasin chose not to include any of that.) Scant archival footage finds its way into the film either, providing little background for an obviously complex era in African history. Not surprisingly, then, the final product feels frustratingly incomplete, serving more as an introduction to Mali's post-independence sociopolitical malaise, raising many more questions about--rather than providing satisfactory answers for--both the musician himself and the disadvantaged people who watch and hear him play. Starring Boubacar "KarKar" Traoré. Directed, written and produced by Jacques Sarasin. A First Run release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 76 min