“We did not learn the music. It is in our blood.” In West Africa, the griot is the keeper of their people’s narrative, which they keep in their mind and tell through music.
One of them, the subject of a beautiful, lyrical but languid film from German jazz-trumpeter-cum-filmmaker Volker Goetze, is Ablaye Cissoko, a soft-spoken and spiritual Senegalese musician of some international acclaim.
The documentary elegantly explains the role of the griot in a given community, falling back on the muted-trumpet tone of the director and the harp-like serenity of the Kora-plucking Cissoko for the film’s ambience. As sublime as Cissoko’s melodic storytelling is, however, the director Goetze copies it too closely. T
he documentary’s tension – Cissoko struggles to reinvent the role of the griot in an overpopulated country where half of the people are under age 20 – is too gentle and too late in coming, arriving with about 10 minutes left in the feature. Still, if Griot the film doesn’t always hold your attention, griot the man usually does.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to catch Cissoko in performance as he tours Canada in conjunction with screenings across the country, with the film providing context for his deep art.