Sunday, June 16, 2024

A great adventure through the music and musicians of Senegal

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The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that the true homeland of man is childhood. If we accept the thesis, one might wonder what his anthem is; or, if you prefer, the soundtrack. It is probably that music that we heard at home during childhood, the one that our parents listened to.

Jairo Zavala (1973) from Madrid is a professional musician. His artistic name is Depedro and he has already recorded 7 albums. He grew up stimulated by the Senegalese music that his mother liked so much, especially the songs of an artist named Lamine Konté. One day he decides to travel to West Africa to inquire about said creator. Who knows, maybe it’ll even be done with some of his vinyl. The film Casamance: The soundtrack of a journey is the chronicle of that search.

The film begins with a concert by Depedro at the Ateneu Popular de Nou Barris in Barcelona. Familiarizes the viewer with his work. The shots of the performance alternate with a collaboration of the musician in the Hoy empieza todo program, on Radio 3. He talks with the journalist Ángel Carmona, host of the show, and explains his plan to go to Senegal, but not to give a concert , but to “stretch the thread of those songs that have always accompanied me”. Carmona is so enthusiastic about the idea that he signs up, they will share a part of the stay.

The following scenes already take place in Senegal. The first stage of the trip is Dakar, the capital, a city that Depedro describes as “chaotic and vibrant”. He could add dilapidated, vital, half done, half destroyed. The protagonist walks through avenues and markets. He doesn’t move haphazardly, he arrives with some contacts.

The film is the chronicle of Jairo Zavala’s trip to Senegal after the music of Lamine Konté

His first interlocutors are Westerners. Damien Masterson comes from San Francisco (California), but he has lived in Dakar for 4 years, a city he loves because “even though life is hard, people have ways of getting by without resorting to violence.” Throughout the film we see his talent with the harmonica or the saxophone.

Adamantios Kafetzis is Greek, and is dedicated to the rescue and restoration of local disks for later digitization. His mission in his life is that all that heritage does not disappear, that it is not lost forever. He has also regrouped an old orchestra, Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès, founded in 1979. He found its members one by one, 30 years after the dissolution of the band. Today they are grandparents, but they still overwhelm with a talent that has not aged.

Still from 'Casamance: The Soundtrack of a Journey', by Paloma Zapata

Still from ‘Casamance: The Soundtrack of a Journey.

Depedro talks to many local musicians, like percussionist Paby Saw. He not only chats with them, he also listens and accompanies them. They improvise together. They embody the idea that music is only what musicians play with musical instruments; everything else is… something else. The investigations on Lamine Konté alternate with disquisitions on the country and with many improvised concerts in any urban corner, delicious jam sessions. They are opportunities to admire the local facility for rhythm, her formidable gift with any object that sounds.

Depedro learns about the main styles of Senegalese music. He is surprised by the enormous influence that Cuban music, salsa and rumba had, even though today they are in the doldrums. Its witness was picked up by the mbalax, which combines tradition and modernity with local instruments, such as the djembe (drum), the tama (armpit drum) or the kessing-kessing, a kind of metal maracas, along with other western ones, such as the guitar electric, bass, saxophone or trumpet. 

The film covers the main scenes of Dakar and its tourist landmarks

The Étoile de Dakar orchestra, Youssou N’Dour or Ismaël Lô brought the mbalax to its maximum expression. The kora, a string instrument made from half a gourd, is omnipresent throughout the report with its sound that sometimes resembles that of a harp, and other times, that of a flamenco guitar.

The film covers the main scenes of Dakar, its tourist landmarks, such as the gigantic bronze monument dedicated to the African Renaissance, which was built by a North Korean company. Or the island of Gorée, from where ships loaded with slaves set sail for American plantations.

Island of Goree, Senegal

Island of Goree, Senegal.

Depedro’s investigations do not end in Dakar. They lead him to Lower Casamance, the supposed cradle of Lamine Konté, a region of rivers and mangroves in the southwest of the country. There, in Zinguinchor, he meets Ángel Carmona, who will accompany him for the rest of the trip. The journey becomes rural, baobabs and ceibas appear, adobe villages, herds of cows, religious ceremonies and traditional dances, including lamb, hand-to-hand wrestling, the most popular sport in the country, where fills large stadiums.

Casamance is inhabited by the Diolá people, who barely represent 3% of Senegal’s population. The majority group is the Wolof, to which 43% of Senegalese belong. There are also peules, toucoleurs, sereres… This diversity is projected in the beliefs, since Islam coexists with Christianity and with animist traditions. But everyone forgets about the differences when the music comes on, any music, and the feet start moving.

The film discloses a charismatic figure: that of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the father of independence. Professor of Grammar and poet, he managed to transform this hodgepodge of peoples and creeds into a united nation, with a common identity.

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