Of Theatres and Teachings

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August 18, 2018

Of Theatres and Teachings

Boy does it feel good to be back!

It has felt like absolutely ages since I last parked my bum, concentrated and wrote a blogpost. I’ve been so caught up in other forms of creativity (sewing OMG, I close my eyes and see fabric) that even the thought of writing has felt like such a draaag. But alas, we made it.

If anyone knows me, they’ll know that after Ouzin Keita, Alioune Cisse’s cheekbones and N’golo Kante’s smile, late 90s and early 2000s theatres are my favourite thing in the entire world.

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(If you don’t love N’golo Kante you need to rinse your heart out with zamzam water)

Most of my early life memories are underlined with scenes and images from theatres that we watched as a family, gathered around in small clusters in the large salle of my grandmother’s compound, that serve as markers for what would then become my adult sense of beauty, style and decorum. Clouds of thick dust there were blown from heavy, black tape cassettes prior to their entry into our beloved Sony VHS player disseminated into life lessons, moral codes and lines drawn between bad/not-as-bad that I still refer to today.

So here I am, paying hommage to some of my favourite theatres and the things they taught me, whether I realised them at the time of viewing as a tiny but talkative 6 year-old or a (still tiny and) more-stubborn-than-necessary 20-something year old.

Acha len bok..

 Ibra Italien

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One of the greatest films in theatre history in terms of depth of storyline, fashion (I’m still dying over those mules Ndeye Khady wore in the party scene, thank you very much) and complexity. But of course, where Daraay Kocc leads, excellence follows..

When I think of Ibra Italien, one of the first things that comes to mind is the importance of gut-led decisions and the necessity of applying the spirit of discernment to everything. In the film, Ibra comes forth presenting himself as an immigre from Italy, suggestively well-off and in search of a wife feka fi ak Barra sah demut fa. He woos Ndeye Khady a-la ‘I know what I want and I’m here to collect’ and wastes not only her time but also her emotional energy just to end up disappearing to a different part of Senegal where he targets yet another unassuming young lady which is later chronicled in the good but not brilliant ‘Ibra Diplomat’.

What I take away from this film is the need, as women in a world led by and subservient to patriarchy, to do the necessary work of leading with the gut. Of grabbing moments by hand and deciding what to do with them, unapologetically. Entwined with this is the need to operate with a ruthless spirit of discernment, to be brutal about what serves or could serve you and to move forward confident in the knowledge that outcome aside, you did what made you most comfortable at the time and that in itself being a form of freedom. It is no secret that in Senegambian society, women are expected to be in a state of perpetual discomfort (like when you need to pee and all the toilets in Starbucks are out of order and you have to sit on the bus for 4o minutes to get home and you try to concentrate on the sound of the trees as the bus passes by so you don’t seben yourself / this may or may not have happened to me but I will never tell) when it comes to most things but especially when it comes to their relationships to and with men. We are drilled to be content with the bare minimum they have to offer and expected to keep mute when even that seems implausible. Yallah terreh.

In the theatre, the promise of an immigre brings along with it the promise of greater pastures as we hail from a society where remittances from abroad are what serve as the foundation for most people’s sense of financial semi-stability so it is understandable why that seems so attractive and important to Ndeye Khady and her mother. In any case, what I still carry with me as a necessary tool of life is the forceful reclaiming of emotional independence that is often misconstrued as stubbornness/ nyaka ham sa borpa/ goor bu nyow nga daha kor that begs the question, aside from what I’ve been conditioned to find attractive about you that in the long run will serve as nothing but bargaining chips for why I should mugn amidst probable future nonsense, what do I like about you? Do I even like you?

But like I always say, if you took away Ibra’s immigrant status and his oversized suits, that nigga really didn’t do much except dance off-beat and refuse to get a haircut. A sure fire sign of trash if I’ve ever seen one..

Linguere VDN

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This theatre gets me every time. If you see my eyes watering in the scene where the merrs send thugs to burn Linguere with lit cigarettes after she threatened to quit, just hand me a scented tissue and mind ya bidness.

I had absolutely no business watching this theatre as a 6 year-old but who was gonna stop me? Kerr gi yep la terrorise won beh pareh tog di naan Sun Top.

I love that this theatre was able to tackle a very real and active component of our society that people still insist on being legally blind to: prostitution. In the film, Pape Demba spends a night with Linguere then falls in love with her and from that moment on, like Balla Gaye 2 V Tyson in their 2011 combat, everything lock off.

More than anything, one of the key things I was able to deduce from the overall themes in the film was the handiness of being able to pay dust to the rampant hypocrisy that so often surrounds us. People literally biting their left elbows off with anger because in their mind, your perceived wrongdoing is wronger than their own. For instance, Pape Demba’s friend was the one who convinced him to go out and spend the night with a prostitute but in a comedic twist of fate, was the very person who was the most outspoken against Pape Demba marrying her. According to him, ken du jel jigeeni gudi def ko jabar. Bet his penis thinks otherwise.

The relevance of this particular aspect of the storyline always hits me at the most unassuming of moments, e.g. seminars about the haramity of homosexuality from guys who spew with misplaced confidence in between gulps of Corona or reminders that despite all your personal achievements, you don’t climb behind somebody’s son at night so therefore what is your life from aunties who’ve had two confrontations with their husband’s 19 year-old mistress this week alone.

Awo Bourou Keureum

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There are so many things I could say about this theatre, I feel overwhelmed as I type.

The most important thing I learnt from this theatre and the one that has shaped me the most out of all the films I have watched and re-watched over the years, is sass. Goog beh fu goog em. No-one does it like Nene Kome, and no-one ever can.

From the musorr she tilts to one side as a show of stylish individuality to her cunning plans in dorring her wujas teh lohom dulen sah laal, she is one for the books through and through. Perhaps a special post dedicated to this theatre alone will come one day but the scene that I will focus on today is the last one, where Nene and her wuja have a Senegambian-style dance-off and her wuja ends by lifting her granmbuba and sharing with the geww and the eternal viewers, her bethio.

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I remember the outrage that followed, the cries of indecency and the shouts of “theatres are taking things too far” from men who probably spent their days scouring the markets of Banjul for a similar bethio for their own wives but, dama am yaar nak, so I digress. The age I was at when I saw this film, my tongue couldn’t even curl around the word ‘bethio’ with clarity but now, not only can I pronounce it with vigour but I also see through the bullshit narrative of a society where women are expected to be extraterrestrially sensual, but only for the sake of male pleasure. As in collecting jal jalis should be an act you’re familiar with but don’t you dare let it be for any reason other than the pleasure a man will derive from hearing its kesseng kesseng.

This constant push to present our entire society as conservative while we know what we know, we see what we see and we do what we do is tiring to say the least. Bet those people who got their boxers in a twist waited until AFTER the scene was over to turn off the TV and express their outrage but let me just..

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  1. Fatou Sow says:

    Loved this read! My dad is from Senegal and my mom is African-American and the first time I visited Senegal, I saw the discomfort that you spoke of in the first theater. I’ve also been watching more Senegalese films, but if you have any suggestions, I would love to find out about more. Jërëjef waaye!

    • The Culture Critic says:

      Hey hun, if you’re interested in Senegalese films then check out the archive section of my blog, you’ll find lots of movies under the category ‘theatres’.


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