We visited Kirina on Sunday to see a music school there. I assumed this would mean we’d be bused to the village, see the school, and then make our exit, but we ended up being greeted by most of the village with instruments. They escorted us to various officials’ houses, playing, singing, and dancing all the way. We ended up settling down at one point to meet the elders, and the women and children danced. We also watched another mask dance – specific to this region. He was spectacular, and as we made our way to the school he jumped in front of us and indicated that we should get our picture with him. Cool, no?
The school was really special – they showed us the instrument room where they houses ngonis, djembés, koras, balofones, etc. Then we sat with some chasseurs and watched the kids perform various instruments and dance. The school gives lessons in music, dance, English, and French and is a part of Playing for Change. (Website here: http://playingforchange.com/ check it out!)
We were joined by a couple who had just donated money to the school. They didn’t speak French, so all our interactions were in English – which was really weird. I’m starting to ease into French, so it feels strange now for me to speak any other language with Malians (save very broken Bambara). Funny side note though, I recently discovered that most Americans who visit Mali don’t speak French. Maybe that was a no-brainer, but it totally shocked me. I cannot imagine trying to navigate such a different and busy and social country without any linguistic connection. I already struggle a bit because a lot of the population doesn’t speak French, and fewer speak English. Considering the fact that the best part of this trip has been forging connections – this news made me sad. At any rate, it’s meant that I’ve been repeatedly mistaken as Italian or French because I speak the language.
The one weird part of the trip was that there was a ton of filming underway. We filmed the elders as we interviewed them in Djoliba, we were interviewed about our experience there, and in Kirina three different men with cameras filmed everything that happened. In some ways, I think this was cool – and it’s neat that they wanted to document the experience. On the other hand, it definitely made me uncomfortable at times. In Mali there is (traditionally) an idea that when you film or photograph someone, you steal their soul. For me, the entire time I was on edge about offending the elders and other villagers. Plus, it got to be a little distracting. I missed out on a bit of the masquerade because guys kept stepping in front of the mask to film him. Worse, when we were being greeted by the elders, one of them put his tripod between us and the man talking to us. And I know some of the elders at Djoliba were disgruntled when a camera equipped with a bright light appeared in front of them and blocked their view of the film. It’s really made me more conscious of how I film, and made me think long and hard about a lot of things. I enjoy film and photography as much as anyone (more than some people probably) and feel it’s important to document my experiences (especially for you guys), but it’s a fine line to walk without becoming distracting or offending others. Something I’ll have to reflect on more in the future.