African Folk Lore

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The idea of the film is based on a Western African tale that I read a few years ago.

The beginning of the tale and the story line aroused something in me and I immediately took notes, with a future film in mind?. At the very beginning of the tale, a small child is talking whilst still inside his mother's womb demanding his birth. The mother replied with similar audacity and the child gives birth to himself. Then, unlike the other villagers, he confronts the sorceress instead of accepting and fearing the authority of this supernatural force. He eventually frees the villagers from the clutches of this wicked woman.

When a producer asked me for a script for a feature film, the idea of Kirikou-fears-no-sorceress imposed itself (as Kirikou had with his mother and the sorceress?). On top of this wonderfully energetic story, I had long wanted to portray Africa, a powerful realm that had never been portrayed in an animated feature film, ("The Lion King" used African settings but not Africa nor the Africans).

The story of the film is loosely based on the African tale which I used as a starting point in order to develop a nice, simple story with the questions I asked as a child and the convictions I have assumed as an adult. I developed the contrast between small child/mighty sorceress : Kirikou is tiny and wears no clothes, Karaba the Sorceress is statuesque, over-dressed with jewels, malice and power.

The main topic of the story is the question that Kirikou raises throughout the tale : "Why is the sorceress wicked?". Adults have ready-made answers, when they do have them. But Kirikou will reach the truth, his actions are not pre-determined, he does not simply kill Karaba as in the original story.

The second topic is that one should never fear "sorcerers" and that you will achieve what you want, not by believing in superstition and lucky charms, but by taking matters into your own hands. My heroes are independent: Kirikou, his mother, his grandfather and Karaba.

Other themes came naturally too, from very African topics such as the importance of the family and of the group, a certain harmony with the body, to universal topics such as war of the sexes -(the sorceress is a beautiful woman and she fights her battles with men), altruism, shrewdness, forgiveness, time ticking over, love -that between a man and a woman, of course- but also that between mother and son, an emotion not dealt with in traditional folklore.

How to treat Africa graphically presented a problem: Africa has a great tradition of decorative art but not so much that of a figurative graphic art. For inspiration purposes, I imagined an African Douanier Rousseau. That idea helped us design the decor of the background scenery. As for the characters, we made use of Egyptian art as I wanted to avoid caricature and I also wanted the handsome individuals to immediately appear striking.

The fetishes are obviously inspired from "Negro Art". In this case, there was no lack of choice. As far as colour was concerned I used the vivid memories of my childhood; an ochre village, the yellow savannah, the emerald forest, the green river, the hut of the sorceress, the outside as grey and black as death and the inside as red as hell, and the rainbow-coloured finale of a crowd at a fancy-dress party.

Quite naturally an African musician composed the music. It is an African tale and Africa has made a huge impression on the world with its music. We asked Youssou N'dour to compose the soundtrack. He still lives in Dakar despite international fame. Furthermore, I asked him to be even more African than usual and to use exclusively traditional instruments?. We also recorded the original French voices in his studio using African actors. I wanted to make a film in my language, which is also the language of a part of Africa and I did not want my villagers in the bush to have voices arranged and recorded in Paris. I enjoyed immensely recording French speakers in Africa, thus bringing an authentic African flavour to the film.

I read the script of KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS two years ago, at a time when I received many film scripts for work as a composer or as an actor. That of KIRIKOU was the only one that appealed to me, for two reasons.

Firstly, because it is an African tale that I can identify with. It talks of water and nature, children, a sorceress and fetishes, things that make up our mythology, our roots.

Secondly, because it would enable me to work once more with traditional music. The director made it very clear that he wanted no modern or percussion instruments, and that he wanted to find a more natural inspiration, seeking inspiration where music originated. We have therefore used traditional African instruments like the balafon, the ritti, the cora, the xalam, the tokho, the sabaar and the belon.

It is the very first time that I have worked on a film score and it has been a real challenge. I started working on it after having read the script, and when I saw the film itself I was amazed by the impact of the images, the force of the colors and the originality of the characters. They are idyllic images, of course, not the Africa of today, but a stylized and mythical Africa, an Africa of children's tales.


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