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Can one also overlook the notion that African cinema had had nothing to inherit when it started its development? However, when African films are examined, one sees that all the directors resort in different ways to oral story-telling forms. The dance occurring at the beginning of the film, instead of having a fixed exotic meaning as in anthropolog- ical films about Africa, is a spectacle open to several interpretations.

First one can see in it the desire of the new public employees to be consid- ered traditional, and therefore authentic. But one soon realizes that the dance and music out- side are used as masks to hide the incompetence of the new leaders inside, who accept bribes from the very Frenchmen they had kicked out. Finally, the dance connotes in an ironic manner the representation of half-naked Africans who are always dancing in European and American films.

At the level of the signified, song and dance in Xala position the spectators to criticize the superficial use of tradition by politicians. The opening scene helps the audience build a revolutionary attitude relative to the regressive behavior of the characters in the film. In Visages de Femmes Faces of Women, a film by Desire Ecare, which tells two differ- ent stories about two women in Ivory Coast , song and dance are narrative processes which move the story forward.

In this film song and dance, at the beginning and end of the river love scene, constitute a mini-narrative with a begin- ning, middle, and end. Through their perfor- mance, the women tell the story of how a boy and a girl deceived everybody and met in the river to make love. In Xala Sembene negates the Hollywood stereotypes of exotic Africans and gives a contextual interpretation to song and dance, but in Visages de Femmes Ecare empha- sizes the manner in which song and dance in Africa are used to inform people of what is tak- ing place behind their backs. This balletic cin- ema, or a cinema that dances in order to tell its story, has its parallel in at least one West Afri- can popular theater, the Koteba, which also can imitate all forms of representation through dance.

As the dancers of Visages de Femmes, in their colorful attire, move to the beat of the music in harmony with the rhythm of the editing and the camera movements, one cannot help but think that Ecare has invented a new language for Afri- can cinema.

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But how is this aesthetization of an African popular culture, which pushes the spec- tator to identify with the dancing women, differ- ent from the old tradition of constructing the body of women as the site of desire in Western cinema? In other words, as Ecare places song and dance in African cinema, away from anthropo- logical and Hollywood films, he surrenders to the sexist codes of African popular culture which undermine his very attempt to keep alive in Visages de Femmes the political commitment of African directors.

This brief analysis of the representation of song and dance in Xala and Visages de Femmes reveals that the appropriation of popular cul- ture by the fiction film in Africa creates a move- ment away from Western film language, toward a predominance of traditional narrative codes.

As regards social practices such as polygamy in African film, two examples suffice to illus- trate its cinematic representation. Beye con- structs polygamy as the common denominator of the problems of several men in the film, and ends by focusing on the freedom of a young woman who is forced to marry an older man.

There is no central story in Sey Seyeti, which tells one anecdote after another, using poly- gamy as the over-determining factor. This com- plex film, which runs the risk of confusing the spectator in the West about the relationships among many characters, or of being dismissed as an example of African avant-garde, shocked the inhabitants of Senegal. When it was re- leased, the film provoked an unprecedented reaction in the press from sociologists, ethnol- ogists, and politicians.

Beye was accused by some for looking at polygamy, an African cus- tom, with European eyes, and praised by others for boldly exposing a regressive practice which no longer finds its justification in modern Sene- gal. The fact that Sey Seyeti shocked African audiences, while its message remains opaque or confusing to the spectator in the West, indicates that Beye simultaneously fashioned an African film language while attempting to shed light on 8 the repressiveness of a popular practice such as polygamy. One of the scenes in this film debunks polygamy by exposing its internal contradictions.

But the tradition of polygamy is more seriously questioned in the film by the belittling of its social and economic meaning. Women play the role of respectful spouses, who submit to their husbands in order to cheat on them even better and to get from them what they want. For example, in another scene the oldest and the youngest wives stage a mock fight to distract the husband from his commitment to punish a disloyal daughter.

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African Discourse in Islam, Oral Traditions, and Performance - CRC Press Book

The youngest wife squanders his money, drinks whiskey, and smokes in front of him. These signs of depravity in a traditional Islamic so- ciety are ascribed to modernity and the persis- tence of polygamy. An understanding of local culture anthropological signs is necessary to appreciate the play of the actors as authoritative and phallocentric husband, or oldest and young- est wives.


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One has to go beyond the simplistic conception of art as functional in Africa and see, for example, the aesthetics over-determined by polygamy in the comic scene of the mock fight between the wives. The figure of the griot, symbol of the oral tra- dition, has also been often represented in Afri- can films. She also analyzes the representation of the griot in films such as Niaye, Borom Sarret, Xala, and Ceddo. I will limit myself to the figure of the griot seen in a scene of Borom Sarret: fat, well-dressed, and even with a gold tooth.

The opposition be- tween these two characters is so striking that it reminds one of an earlier scene where Sembene uses high- and low-angle shots to contrast the cart driver with a crippled beggar who crawls on all fours. As money is transferred from the cart driver to the griot, one sees tradition as tainted with ob- vious corruption. Sembene transcends the griot, therefore, and surrounds him and his old narra- tive with a new vision which traces the mechan- ism by which people such as the cart driver are exploited.

Here again Sembene uses high- and low-angle shots, as he does throughout the length of the film to maintain this hierarchy of power not only between people, but also be- tween the two sides of the city. Sembene creates a distance between spectators and the characters in the film which enables the spectators to criticize themselves in their tradi- tion. This cinematic language takes its form and content from the figure of the griot, symbol of the oral tradition which Sembene uses as his point of departure.

He posits the griot as the point of departure and the master of nar- rative. Accord- ing to this rhetoric, the griot was originally a hunter who changed trades to become a singer, story-teller and musician. To show that this definition of griots is opposed to any revolution of ideas, to love and life, Fadika creates a love story be- tween a man from the griot caste and a woman from another social group so as to reveal the regressiveness of caste systems which suppress such a possibility. The aesthetic in Djeli defines itself as a movement out of the stagnation of caste hierarchies, towards a transformation of tradition into an equalitarian system.

The film positions the spectator to get rid of hierarchical notions, to enjoy the art of the griot, and to see a coin- cidence between the rehabilitation of griots and progress in Africa. Finally, in Jom , Ababakar Samb paints a romantic figure of griots. In Jom the griot is the main character, the omnis- cient narrator of the different sketches that form the film, and the immortal persona who travels through time and space.


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He remains un- changed by age and by the weapons used by the enemies of tradition. Neither money nor fear can corrupt him. He is the griot of the poor as well as of the rich. He provides leadership and moral support to the factory workers who are on strike, ridicules the eccentricities of the nouveaux riches in Africa, and praises the courage and dignity of the migrant workers who had to leave their vil- lages because of the drought.

The figure of the griot is used to reinvent a beautiful image of the past. Jom positions the spectator to identify with tradition without any attempt at self-criticism: everything positive is pushed on the side of tradition and everything negative on the side of modernism. Up to now, I have shown the manner in which elements of popular culture have been in- corporated into cinema. The Ewes also headed west. After the fall of the Egyptian kingdom, the Ghana Empire rose in its place with its capital at Walata near Timbuktu.

The Ewes were also part of this empire and they got some customs from there also. There is no literature confirming this but there are some signs in our language and practices which show that our ancestors knew something about this kingdom […]. The word for lion in Ewe is dzata. It is clear that we gave the name of Mari Dzata to this fierce animal […] Obianim 2—3 [18].

Thus the Ewes also set off northwest until they reached Dahome now Benin. Here the Ewes divided into two big groups: one part went northeastwards to the Adele region on Dogbo land. The second big group went southwestwards and divided into two groups: one group stayed in Tado and the other group settled in Notsie. For example, the reconstruction of human history in terms of Ewe worldwide migrations is shared by Togolese Ewes who produced a video summarising the creation and migration narrative of the Ewe, similar to the narrative offered in the interview presented here.

Such a video was aired on the Supreme Master Television 28 July that broadcasts the teachings and actions of their spiritual leader Ching Hai [19]. The video found its way onto the World Wide Web Figure 1 [20].

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One wonders whether they do not have the same agenda and whether Dr. The study of oral genres has shifted attention from the academic process of recreating the text to the interaction of the participants—that is—from the performers to the researchers, in the performance. Such a discussion is indeed urgent when we use video recordings, as in the case presented here, because new technologies are not only tools for recording events but also tools that affect and change what is recorded Gee and Hayes Scholars know that the use of video cameras may affect the performance and the context in which they operate.

Moreover, the apparent objectivity of video images risks obfuscating perspectives, aims, audiences, and selection processes conveyed by the images. This is quite a confusing and paradoxical situation as we are somehow required to deconstruct our research and video recordings before we have even constructed them. Anthropologists and historians have used the analysis of perspective and narrative voice very effectively to criticise the way in which classic ethnographies and works of history construct dominant discourses under the guise of objectivity.

Moreover, the very same idea of giving voice to informants appeared to originate in the misconstruction of the disproportionate distance established between subject researcher and object informant of research. The new approach showed that the seemingly progressive endeavour of giving voice to informants ultimately denied the processes and effects of interactions, negotiations and adaptations taking place in the interview as well as in the process of recording oral genres.

On the contrary, recorded interviews and ethnographic writing are rather to be understood as encounter and exchange.