Friday, March 18, 2016

The Sorceress of Timbuktu

Life in Africa is as always a breakneck medley between the unbearable and the joyous; the ridiculous and the sublime, between clarity and incomprehension; hope and despair, to mention just a few of the emotions one is likely to encounter on a normal African day. 
These feelings have been exacerbated lately with Keita’s state of health. Before I left for Djenné he was bleeding from the nose and in a very precarious situation. I left only reluctantly because I had to see to certain things in the MaliMali studio and I had promised to give a helping hand to the German film crew who were to film a re-enactment in Djenné of the saving of the Timbuktu Manuscripts. We headed north last Monday in the comfort of their hired air-conditioned bus.

Four days followed cram-packed with activity. At the studio we managed to finish the important fabric order for the interior decorator in Amsterdam; I assisted in the organizing of the shoot as a liaison person with the library where some scenes were shot of Yelpha and Garba the archivists taking manuscripts from the shelves  and placing them in boxes, pretending to be saving them in a hurry from the threat of the Jihadists. On the second day I had the joyous news from Keita in Bamako  that he had stopped bleeding and that he felt better, so I was able to take part in the activities with a lighter heart and enjoy these four days  and starlit evenings once more. One night we rigged up a sheet as a film screen, and Samake found us a digital projector so the team was able show us their brand new, as yet unreleased, film Mali Blues after dinner with a few invited guests, making Djenne the unofficial World premiere.
 On the second  day we were joined  by another couple of team members amongst whom was Kettly Noel, the unforgettable mad sorceress of the film Timbuktu who turned out to be a charming Haitian-born lady living in Bamako, a choreographer as well as actress on her way to an assignment with a theatre in Stockholm this spring where inshallah we shall meet again.

The idea of the film director Lutz Gregor was that Kettly was the voice of the film: she was supposed to find out about these Malian manuscripts. To this end they had her visit the Marabout Alpha Issa Kanta in his home which is also a Koran school. He is the most important manuscript owner in Djenné who has given many hundreds of manuscripts into the safekeeping of the Djenné Manuscript Library. She was seen asking him to give her some manuscripts to read in order to understand the scope of the manuscripts.
Now, this is where it became slightly tricky. I had been asked to find out through Saadou, our new manuscript specialist at the library, if we had any texts to do with the equality of the sexes; anything to do with tolerance between religions or anything that would present  Islam in a favourable light in the opinion of the German television audience. The problem is that there are very few such texts in the Malian manuscripts. We have hardly any and  the case is the same with the manuscripts of Timbuktu, although UNESCO and various other bodies have wanted to present the Malian manuscripts as some sort of font of enlightenment that suits our Western sensibilities. There are plenty of fascinating things to find out from the manuscripts, but if one has already decided what one is supposed to find, it is not always possible...
Saadou managed to find something about children born out of wedlock being able to be allowed into Paradise: that was about as enlightened as it was going to get. 

I tried to be helpful and suggested one thing which might be interesting for Kettly to browse through for the German TV audience: the pre-Islamic poet Imroul Kiss, known to readers of this journal already -see November 2012.
The director was very enthusiastic about this so he had me translating into French (the film is shot in French and local languages: Bambara, Tamachek etc.) the English text that Mohammed had already translated for me from the Arabic of the manuscript  we have in the library.  I did it of course but with a sense of the inappropriate, that I was treading on ground that was not made for me. I got up early on the day of the filming, hoping fervently that there was never ever going to be any literary experts on Imroul Kiss amongst the German TV audience...
And above she is pictured, the sorceress of Timbuktu, on the shores of the Bani by Djenné declaiming my dodgy Imroul Kiss translation:

Mon amour pour toi  est comme une grande Fleuve qui suit son cours à jamais. Laisse ton amour pour moi devenir le même ! Ne me repousse pas !  Laisse-moi t’approcher !
Cette nuit est comme une grande Fleuve qui suit son cours tandis que je suis accablé par mes douleurs. A mesure que la nuit s’avance ma peine grandit.
Ah, Nuit ! Va t'en ! Que l’aube vienne! Ton obscurité et l’immobilité de tes étoiles  m’accablent .
Peut etre l’aube va annoncer à nouveau la joie dans mon cœur.

 I returned to Bamako today after four days with the film crew and tonight Keita and I are once more together at Eva’s, in her absence. He is weak but stable.


Blogger David said...

Bit of a relief to hear things are stable, at least, with Keita.

But all this is quite amusing in its way - not least a very typical film-crew attempt to bend a narrative. Ketty Noel - wasn't she marvellous? I was outraged that the film Timbuktu, which I think we agreed was a mastepiece after we'd been to see it, didn't garner awards (or even get chosen by my own Arts Desk as a film of the year - it was my personal favourite, not that I saw anything like the gamut). Great top shot, too. May her spells do you good!

8:56 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Yes indeed David! Kettly is marvellous and Timbuktu should have got best foreign film at the Oscars, for sure. And it should have done better all around. I wonder why it didn't?

9:05 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well, the Oscars are a lost cause - the very idea that films in languages other than English shouldn't be up there for Best Film period is absurd. But I'd hoped it would do better elsewhere. This year I'm rooting so far for Rams, an Icelandic gem which never puts a foot wrong. You would absolutely love it, I know.

10:57 AM  

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