Lucas Silva, from Colombia to Africa: breaking codes and borders

The Panorama of Colombian Cinema was completed this week and the Audience Award crowned his short film "Divinas Melodias". It tells the story of Pacho, an old musician who makes marimbas on the Pacific coast populated mainly by Afro-Colombians. Its director, Lucas Silva, has sailed for years between Colombia and Africa, with stopovers in Paris, exploring the black roots of Colombian culture. Meet.

Cinema and music fill the two hemispheres of Lucas Silva Rodriguez's brain. The cinema, he fell in very small, since he is the son of documentaries Jorge Silva and Marta Rodriguez. Music, it has also bathed since always in the rhythms that punctuate all the moments of the life in Colombia as it is there like the air that one breathes. Africa came a little later, but it was also a bit of self as the culture of African origin is prominent, especially on the coastal fringes of the country. Some 10 million Colombians have African origins says Lucas Silva, and that's without counting the half-breeds. Colombia " is the country, after Brazil, where the population of African origin is the largest in Latin America. "

The discovery of champeta

Colombian filmmaker, producer and musician Lucas Silva was one of the guest filmmakers for the Panorama of Colombian Cinema in Paris (October 2019).
                         © Hollywoodoofilms

He is a half-breed from Bogota, the capital. It is defined as " Colombian, filmmaker and music producer, and all my work is dedicated to Afro-Colombian culture, traditional and modern ". Afro-Colombian music, a recent qualifier (before we talked about music from the coast, costeña, he explains), it is through the Paris box that he discovered it. Lucas Silva stayed in France from 1989 to 2005. Fifteen years during which he studied cinema, discovered African cultures through African artists and intellectuals he met in Paris, made and co-produced films. In 1996, he creates his music label Palenque Records in Paris and the same year, made his first documentary on the champeta, Afro-Colombian music from the Caribbean coast. " A rather exceptional music because it is a mixture of modern African music with traditional Afro-Colombian rhythms … I have devoted a large part of my life to make this music known to the world: a scorned, marginal music of the population poor of the Caribbean coast, and fear too … Racist arguments ", according to him. Because the champeta is black music and the predominantly mixed-race population of Colombia – the same Lucas Silva claims to be half-breeds – is racist, he tells us. Racism of class and skin color.

(Embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfzPALvVfO4 (/ embed)

The champeta was born from the arrival in Colombia of African records (brought by the sailors or travelers) of the years 1960-70, of the boiling of the independences, coming from Congo, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria. These discs were broadcast in Colombia in sound systems, " these nightclubs traveling in shantytowns at home, jostling everything in their path ". At the time, he continued, we heard in Colombia a lot of salsa or cumbia, tropical music, but the arrival of African music swept everything in these neighborhoods inhabited by a majority of blacks. The poor and peripheral neighborhoods of Cartagena, the city where this music was born. " There is still an apartheid today and it is one of the most racist cities in Colombia, a cruel city ". A paradoxical city, including the old historic center and ripollin, literally colonized by North American and European tourists, " confined by walls built by slaves … is one of the main ports of entry of the slave trade "in Latin America ".

House of the old colonial center of Cartagena, emblematic city of Colombia, a vile "cruel" according to Lucas Silva because of the social segregation that reigns there.
                         © RFI / Isabelle Le Gonidec

Local musicians were inspired by the Congolese soukousse, the highlife, the Afrobeat, the coupé-décalé or the dombolo they played in their own way, which they appropriated.

The champeta was not popular in Bogota, a high-rise and mixed-race city. " When I spoke to my friends at Champeta, they told me I was crazy … this music was unknown in Colombia in the capital ". Then he goes back to France, makes known this music and strong reception, this time favorable, decides to create his label. " In France, there was another reception because people were curious ". He also meets in Paris « a great gentleman, Ibrahima Cisse, a Senegalese musicologist who was my great master in the art of musical appreciation. We made with him the first compilation of champeta ever made outside of Cartagena ". France has helped me a lot at this level, he says. " What I like about France and Paris is that Africa is very powerful and I learn a lot from my African friends. "

AT the discovery of Africa

He produces music, works with Ocora editions (two discs), with Mondomix the world music web magazine with which he made his first trip to Africa in 2003 to make a documentary, with Frédéric Galliano and also discovers African cinema and literature. " My cinematographic references are the films of Djibril Diop Mambety, Dembène Ousmane of which I am a big fan, Jean Rouch whom I also love very much. When I quote them in Colombia, especially the first two, people do not know them, but they are great masters. I really like African cinema, it's a cinema that breathes the truth, it's been an incredible learning ".

His comings and goings between France and Colombia are coupled with trips to Africa. A dozen especially in Senegal, Mali or South Africa. " It changed my life … we are like two cousins ​​of the same family and when we go there we discover ourselves ". He also takes advantage of his travels to research Afro-Colombian music. "JI am an autodidact, not an anthropologist, but I am looking for … And he develops theses on the origins of the black communities of his home, establishes correspondences, elaborates his own theories. " At home we say that Afro-Colombians come almost exclusively from Congo and Angola But it is inaccurate according to him: they come from all the places where the practice of the trade existed, the last names are the proof (Lukumi, Karabali …). The study of their rites, of their cultural practices or of work like the fishing proves it also. He even invited African intellectuals to Colombia so that " we write together our history, in a decolonized way ".

Fry-fishing on the Pacific coast of Colombia (Choco): according to Lucas Silva, Afrocolombians from the Pacific coast and those from the Caribbean coast have different musical cultures.
                         © RFI / Isabelle Le Gonidec

"Thanks to cinema and music, we can break the borders"

Lucas Silva is defined as a crossing point, a bridge between Africa and Colombia. A point of passage that also passes through the cinema and Paris where he discovered his great directors. African cinema is beginning to be broadcast in Colombia. There are two Afro-Colombian film festivals (the first edition of the Chocó International Film Festival just held), and an African film festival called Muica, Muestra of African Cine, which is already the second edition. And the audience responds, according to Lucas Silva.

Break the codes

In his films, he likes to tell stories in the manner of African griots or Indian shamans. He invokes what he calls "cine-trance" or "mystical surrealism" to characterize his work. A formula he prefers to that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the magic realism), which according to him had not understood anything about Afro-Colombian cultures. Lucas Silva practices a genre that we have seen a lot Panorama of Colombian cinema, a hybrid of documentary and fiction where the story and the camera take liberties to flirt with the magic, the myths, the imagination of the people they tell. Colombia is a big country (five times France), "Multicultural, where emotions jostle, in a state of permanent short-circuit with the electricity that leaves and comes back … then instead of breaking the head to explain inexplicable things, we, as artists there we have to write stories with people, with their cosmogony. A good movie is like a dictionary of a foreign language: you do not even understand the alphabet ! "

The people of Colombia have a spirituality, beliefs that infuse their daily lives. A pretty picture : " the reality of a country like Colombia, we can not understand it, we can not make it square, it's not even a round! " he laughed. Hence the difficulty, even for a Colombian to understand the complexity of his country. " It must be understood as twenty things and to understand it must know this twenty things ".

A film is a collective creation

A cinema that breaks the codes of the traditional documentary as much as it conceives its cinema as a collaborative work. " I really like the concept of collective creation, we build together As in the short film Divinas Melodias, in which the characters not only played their own role, but also nurtured the screenplay. He goes so far as to say, a little provocatively, " the director, we do not care! ". The idea of ​​the duende, bad genius was blown to him by a musician : on the Pacific coast of Colombia, it is said that when a musician plays very well, the duende took possession of him, he says. A myth that is found in many cultures: the Robert Johnson of the American blues, but also in Haiti or the Dr. Faustus from Thomas Mann. The film was shot in a region (Cauca, Chocó) where the blacks are descendants of the brown niggers who had fled the slavery of the plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1852 in Colombia, says Lucas Silva, but many blacks learned that they were free decades later because of their isolation by the mountain range and the forest. A region still forgotten in the capital elsewhere, he rebels, without connection with the rest of the country, where one can move from village to village by boat.

In the short film Divinas Melodias by Lucas Silva, the real and the supernatural mingle, the masks of spirits emerge from the forest: it is the mystical surrealism that characterizes his cinema.
                         © Hollywoodoofilms

Decolonization of mentalities in action

The demand for recognition of their own culture and knowledge of African cultures is very strong on the part of Afro-Colombians. And mentalities move positively in Colombia. Afro culture becomes fashion, continues Lucas Silva, returning to music, « because champeta is not only music, it's also a way of life, a cultural identity. Champeta is the essence of Carribbean: some cheerful, optimistic, who likes to dance and music (we speak of a person champetuda) often black, but not only, because it is a music that belongs to everyone beyond the skin color … This energy is also a form of resistance because when we are always in problems, we do not have time to lament … People have amazing ways to survive and are full of creativity! "

He too is full of creativity. More than twenty records to his credit, a label that works well, a film production company (Hollywoodoo Films) and projects full of his wallet including two feature films (one will be shot in both Colombia and Africa). A ball of energy that found time during his stay in Paris to see Mati Diop's film, Atlantic that he loved, and to stock up on African author's books. When asked what African authors he reads, he quotes Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, Sembène Ousmane as both a novelist and a filmmaker, Patrick Bebey, a writer and also a musician, Chimamanda Ngozi. He scoured the bookshops and left with his luggage thirty books not found in Colombia, as the novels of Ben Okri he will discover … " The books are expensive !! "He complains … He cracked for a book on secret societies in Cameroon, but stalled on a book on Mystical Peul poetry …" Next time … "

Bulimic we tell you …


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