Music no longer plays an ornamental role nor is it just a stopgap in the films selected at the 17th Fespaco: it helps to structure the film narrative.
Music is cast like a character in its own right in some films, invested with the role of organizing the narrative. It thereby participates in the narrative development, whilst at the same time prefiguring its tensions, when not actually defusing them. This major innovation in the younger filmmakers’ cinematographic style is a sign of maturity and professionalism, and gives the film a tight construction. Filmmakers increasingly call upon the services of composers to this end.
The Gabonese director Henri Joseph Koumba Bididi entrusted the Senegalese composer Wasis Diop with the musical composition of his first film, the satirical comedy Les Couilles de l’éléphant. Diop already won a prize at the last Fespaco for the music of TGV by his compatriot Moussa Touré, amongst others. This time round, he won the best music award for the pulsating urban music that illustrates the film as its rhythmical beats punctuate the unctuous words of the politicians who harangue the crowds. From one scene to the next, his checked voice highlights the failings of the social-climbing, money-grabbing hero, who embodies the nouveau riche engendered by the banana republics. The composer develops musical movements in which he plays on heavy tonalities and grandiose phrases – such as the roaring waves – to evoke both the sticky climax and the stifling atmosphere of a story in which a hoary, godfather-style guru, sat comfortably in his wheelchair, exploits his protégé just as he does his opponents.
The composer Lokua Kanza played on this same register when the Ivoirian director Roger Gnoan Mbala asked him to do the music for his feature film Adanggaman. In addition to its insider view of the African kings’ involvement in the slave trade, the film’s use of gospel and Negro Spirituals immerses us in the living sources of the roots of jazz. The Congolese musician’s voice with its jazzy inflexions, augmented by the cries of his acoustic guitar, adds emotion and sadness to the images. But although poignant, this fine music at times sits awkwardly with narrative thread, in the sense that it fails sufficiently to illuminate the mystery and the myth of the slave trader Adanggaman plunged into the pernicious mists of rum, a drink of which he is so fond that he is finally deposed and sold, just like his subjects.
Adopting the form of an urban chronicle, Dôlé by the young Gabonese filmmaker Imunga Ivanga, winner of the « Tanit d’Or » at the Carthage film festival, proposes a colourful music in keeping with the young city-dwellers’ aspirations. The rap which youngsters in African cities like so much serves the narrative. Its lively colours, inflammatory lyrics, and corrosive charge give the film consistency, and work on derision. It is thanks to this rapidly developing musical genre that young people’s aspirations articulated here in a poetically biting language – reach the ears of the politicians who are usually so deaf to their demands.
Rage, the first feature film by the young Nigerian filmmaker Newton Aduaka, works on an introspective register. Aduaka already made his mark at the last Fespaco with his short film On the Edge, which won awards in a number of festivals, including Milan. As the title suggests, the film focuses on the music of multiracial London’s rap movement, London being the cutting edge of all musical innovation and fashion. In Rage, rap accompanies the protagonists’ angry outbursts, namely a Black, Mixed-race and White trio who reflect its colours and different tonalities. The music bears the mark of a youth that is struggling to shake off the ghetto and poverty.
The atypical film Room to rent by the Egyptian filmmaker Khaled El Hagar plays on another musical register: that of the music hall. It illustrates the tensions that animate the characters by attempting fusions and ruptures in both the rhythmic architecture and the harmonies. The prime instrument the voice becomes a veritable performance when the Marilyn Monroe look-alike sings oriental ornamented songs with the accents of a blues singer. All through her performance hovers the ghost of Billie Holiday, while her singing exercises bring to mind the warm voice of the Cairene diva, Oum Kalthoum. This tonic music takes us back to the roots of a tradition that has yet to become outmoded as it continues, beyond borders, to inspire artists who are keen to invent a new musical language.
The most polished exercise in this respect comes from Guinea with Gahité Fofana’s Immatriculation temporaire (IT), whose short film Temedy already set the tone. Twelve musical themes structure IT, which takes the form of an identity quest. Here the music is treated like a multiform character. By nostalgically evoking an Africa where people are losing touch with values such as sharing, tolerance and respect, the music prefigures the dramatic tensions and mixes metaphor and hyperbole to depict the problems facing young people. These values are celebrated from one musical theme to another, bringing back into fashion the airs and rhythms that the artists use to develop a music with pedagogical virtues. Centred on a young mixed-race character who is looking for his father, IT proposes a sober urban music that is enriched by its borrowings from the rich Mandingue artistic repertory.
Given the place granted to music in their works, the new generation’s film language thus helps to perpetuate a patrimony whose value and capacity they fully recognize.
Their attempt to make a clean break patently indicates that a dynamic cinematographic style is emerging. In it the filmmakers are proving that the riches of their artistic and cultural patrimony urgently need appropriating in an effort to articulate a new language, an original, different way of telling a story.
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