Watching music, and not only listening to or writing about it, is a priority to deepen in the knowledge of traditional music both in Europe and elsewhere. Since visual anthropology was born, there have been different ways to convey this idea. Through a review of the documentary films produced from the fifties until the present time, the paper shows the historical changes on the film industry priorities with regard to world music portrayals. The dialectal tension between fictional and ethnographic approaches has been a constant. This paper supports the premise that auteur films can reach ethnomusicological level, although not being scientific, and have an added poetical value of great help in this field.
Key terms: ethnomusicology, visual anthropology, documentary film
Para profundizar en el conocimiento de la música tradicional tanto europea como de cualquier procedencia es fundamental “ver” la música en lugar de sólo escucharla o escribir sobre ella. Desde el nacimiento de la antropología visual ha habido diferentes formas de desarrollar esta idea. A través de un repaso a las películas documentales producidas desde los cincuenta hasta la actualidad, esta comunicación muestra los cambios en las prioridades de la industria cinematográfica en cuanto a la representación de las músicas del mundo. Ha sido una constante la tensión dialéctica entre el enfoque etnográfico y el de ficción. Esta comunicación sostiene que las películas “de autor” pueden alcanzar un nivel etnomusicológico, aunque no científico, además de aportar un factor poético de gran valor para este campo.
Palabras clave: etnomusicología, antropología visual, cine documental
Watching music, and not only listening to or writing about it, is a priority to deepen the knowledge of the traditional music of the world. The visual approach, apart from the acoustic one, is essential to fully comprehend the musical phenomena that belong to the cultures with oral-aural tradition, both in European folk music and in extra-European ethnic music.
Music-making is a human behaviour, a cultural fact that includes, besides the sound production, a complex ensemble of kinetic and proxemic behaviours (gestures, movements, dance, etc.), ritual or ritualized practices, a natural environment and a cultural context to express itself. Music-making is, therefore, a phenomenon that involves textual (or musical) elements and contextual (or extra-musical) factors that cannot obviously be captured with a simple tape recorder (let alone notation).
Music is not only an acoustic phenomenon to be analyzed, but also — and above all— a cultural product, a product of the human behaviour. As Alan Merriam (1964) puts it, man, producer and receiver of music, becomes at the same time subject and object of study, source of information about traditional musical practices, with regard to the natural and cultural environment he lives in. According to John Blacking (1973), music is “humanly organized sound”.
Within this anthropological-musical view, the ethnomusical documentary shows us the possibility of extending “the field of sounds” to the social and cultural context in which the musical text is born, developed, passed on and, finally lived in. In other words, the ethnomusical cinema is able to portray many aspects of the musical life in societies which would not be captured by other means. It is easy to get images with the camera, but it is difficult to talk about them. As an old Chinese saying goes, “an image means a million words and a word can bring to mind a million images”.
The orientations that characterize the film and audiovisual production in the latest ethnomusical documentaries are aimed at searching new kinds of languages, on the border-line between the documentary and the fiction, to represent “the Other”, either in traditional rural cultures or popular urban subcultures. The boundaries between fiction and documentary are not clear, since the documentary has taken some of the narrative elements from fiction, and the latter is often realistic. In the ethnomusical documentary a “fiction-like” approach which shows a mixture between the two film genres —fiction and the documentary—, dominates the narrative language, which is sometimes poetic and based on stories and characters; the “scientific” language is gradually abandoned and the search for a new “narrative”: a more clear, simple, fluent, direct, immediate, linear language emerges that is better understood and appreciated by a much wider public than the elite of the experts. In this sense, a comparison between some ethnomusical —not strictly ethnographic— documentaries and certain essays such as Forest People by Colin Turnbull or Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines could be made: although they are not “scientific” texts, they provide, in any case, a perspective close to the point of view of the insider, portrayed with great poetic-narrative mastery.
The dialectal tension between the fiction cinema and the ethnographic cinema has been constant from the beginnings of visual anthropology twenty years back. The term ethnographic fiction has often been mentioned apropos Robert Flaherty’s film about the Inuit (Nanook of the North, 1922) in order to highlight the fact that we are not dealing with documentaries but with real fiction film works within an ethnographic context (that is to say, “primitive”). But if the problem of the “mise-en-scène” is the focal relation between the two film genres, there is no doubt that cinema is always “mise-en-scène”. The reality captured by the camera is never objective, it is a subjective interpretation.
During the Fifties, John Marshall spent many years among the San or Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, where he shot 250 hours of footage, from which he made two documentaries: Bitter Melons (1955 /1971) and N/um Tchai (1966). His documentaries follow Flaherty´s model, as in Nanook of the North (1922) and Man of Aran (1934), where he portrays the ritual and daily life of a group of people who struggle with adversity in their natural environment.
In Germany, again during the Fifties and promoted by the urgent anthropology, a type of ethnographic film named “concept-film” prevailed over the German ethno-cinematic mainstream typology —the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica of the Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film (I.W.F.) of Göttingen— with short sequences that showed a musical performance (sometimes including dance), with no narration (no voice-over) or subtitles, but accompanied by explanatory leaflets. The 16 mm, synchronized sound films were shot by a team made up of an ethnologist, two cameramen and a sound technician. During the Sixties, the IWF promoted expeditions to Africa with the objective of recording some examples of traditional music and dances: the Dangaleat of Chad and the Baulé (filmed 1964 by Fuchs), Gouró and Dan of the Ivory Coast (filmed 1968 by Himelhener).
In France the production of ethnographic films is linked to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (C.N.R.S. Audiovisuel) of Paris and to the name of the ethnologist filmmaker Jean Rouch, epigone of Dziga Vertov and Robert Flaherty and pioneer of the cinéma-vérité. Right from his first short movies, such as Initiation à la danse des possédés (1949)  —we notice Rouch´s interest on the phenomenon of trance linked to the African ritual of possessions. Later Jean Rouch and Gilbert Rouget made ethnographic films about musical traditions from Sub-Saharan Africa together: Batterie Dogon (1966) about the lithophones of the Dogon of Mali and Danse des Reines à Porto Novo (1969) about the coronation of one of King Dahomey´s wifes (today Benin); followed by the documentaries about Dogon cosmogony and rituals (the Sigui series) and the ritual of possession of the Songhai of Niger (Yenendi series, Tourou et Bitti, Horendi, etc.).
According to Rouch´s methodology, only one person, the ethnologist filmmaker (and not a team of filmmakers and ethnologists) should be in charge of documenting the phenomenon; the anthropologists should have deep knowledge of film techniques and shoot the film by themselves and not comission someone to do it. And, above all, the ethnologist-filmmaker should participate actively in the phenomenon before him, which in turn should match what the camera portrays at all times, without breaks or editing cuts (indeed this approach plays down the importance of editing in favour of live shooting). He was expected to take part in the ritual with his camera; to move around with his camera among the people in trance, taking them in long shots, imitating their behavior as if he were also possessed by a spirit. The result is what he describes as “cine-trance”. Unlike the Gottingen approach, Rouch does not use a still camera, a tripod, studio tecniques and so on, because he is dealing with a kind of cinema that participates in the event inside its social-cultural context. 
From the Sixties onwards, almost every Africanist ethnologist has made documentaries about traditional African music. Simha Arom has produced Les enfants de la danse (1966) and L’arc musical Ngbaka (1967) about the Gbaya and the Ngbaka of the Central African Republic respectively, and Ango, une leçon de musique africain (1998); Gerhard Kubik has produced several research movies in Zambia, Malawi and Namibia in the course of three decades (from the Sixties to the Nineties), and some of these “fragments” have become part of the video documentary African Guitar  on African guitar fingerstyle; Mantle Hood has produced Atumpan (1964), about the “talking drums” of the Ashanti of Ghana; Andrew Tracey collaborated with Gei Zantzinger to produce a series of documentaries about the mgodo dances of the Chopi of Mozambique (Mgodo wa Mbanguzi and Mgodo wa Mkandeni, 1973, and The Chopi Timbila Dance, 1980) and about the mbira, lamellophon of Zimbabwe (Mbira Dza Vadzimu series, 1976-78); Pierre Sallé has filmed the documentary Disoumba (1969) on the bwété ritual of Mitshogo of Gabon, and Monique Brandily the documentary Le luth et la vièle des Teda du Tibesti (1978). Roderic Knight has filmed some footage about the traditional music of the Mandinka of Gambia, edited in the video Music of the Mande (1992).  John Miller Chernoff is the author of the documentaries The Drums of Dagbon and Africa Come Back, for the TV series Repercussions: A Celebration of African-American Music produced by Channel Four Television. Hugo Zemp is the author of some documentaries which became “classics”, but only one of them, the last one, deals with Africa: Les mâitres du balafon (2001), a film about the music of the xylophones of the Senufo in the Ivory Coast. 
During the Seventies, some filmmakers made experiments concerning the ethnographic purpose of the Western on Central African music. Taale Laafi Rosellini has produced three 16 mm short documentaries that were filmed in Upper Volta (today Burkina Faso): Adama, the Fulani musician, Diro and His Talking Musical Bow and Dance of the Bella (produced and distributed by the African Family Film Foundation, 1980). 
Almost every ethnomusicological film by professional African film-makers focuses on the traditional African instruments, their construction technique, and performance: Le mvet (1972) by Moïse Zé Lecourt from Cameroon, is dedicated to the mvet, the harp-zither of the Fang from Cameroon; Yiri kan: la voix du bois (1989) by the Burkinabé Issiaka Konate documents the construction and the use of the balafon in a small village in Burkina Faso; Tam Tam, by Idrissa Diabaté (from Ivory Coast) describes the construction of the djembé; Diabaté has subsequently produced the documentaries N’gonifolà (1994)  and Le doso n’goni (1997) focused on the ngoni lute. 
During the Eighties, the transition from the 16 mm film camera to the video camera (and, therefore, from the film to the magnetic tape), has helped to increase the audiovisual recordings carried out in the field, not only for ethnomusicologists but also for filmmakers (not filmmakers any more, but videomakers), because the video camera was smaller, more practical, more easily manipulated, and cheaper than the film camera.
After the boom of world music during the second half of the Eighties, not only independent producers but also some private and public television networks were interested in programming and producing documentaries about ethnic and world music. For the last twenty years, due to the rapid multiethnic and multicultural changes resulting from the enormous wave of migration from the South (in a wide sense) (and consequently the creation of a multicultural audience) as well as the growing general interest about the music of the world, northern European television networks have created a new type of musical-ethnographic documentary aimed at a much wider audience. Especially French television networks (such as Sept/Arte, La Huit, etc.), English networks (B.B.C., Chanel 4, etc.) and Belgian channels (such as R.T.B.F.) have produced ethnomusical documentaries.
During the end of the Seventies and the beginning of the Eighties, the filmmaker Jeremy Marre made twelve documentaries in the series Beats of the Heart for the 4th TV Channel, among them Konkombe, The Nigerian Pop Music Scene (1989), and Rhythm of Resistance: Black Music of South Africa (1988). The ethnomusicological documentaries by Mark Kidel were produced by the B.B.C. in the same period of time. These consisted of a five-part series: Under African Skies (1989-91) —(1. Mali, 2. Ethiopia, 3. Algeria, 4. Zimbabwe, 5. Zaire); Bamako Beat: Music from Mali (1991) stands out among them.
The ethnologist and French film-maker Jean-Paul Colleyn has worked as a programmimg consultant for the La Sept/Arté and, since 1982, he has also worked as a consultant for the documentary programme “Planète des Hommes” for the Belgian television RT BF (Radio-Télévision de la Communauté Française de Belgique). In 1983 produced the 16 mm documentaries Les Chemins de Nya (1983), about the cults of possession of the Minyanka from Mali (produced by the RT BF); some years later, Colleyn produced a documentary in four parts with the title Chronique d’une Saison Seche (1987- 88) for the television broadcast of “Planète des Hommes” (RT BF) and in 1991 Même les pierres nous entendent. (Musiciens du Mali).
During the Nineties, there was an increasing production of documentaries about African music, mainly African pop music or afro-beat, especially those made by filmmakers engaging the advice of ethnomusicologists. The French filmmaker Yves Billon has produced —with his own production and distribution house Les Films du Village (today Zarafa Films) in Paris— several ethnomusical documentaries, some of them based on African music: Musiques du Mali (1992) and Musiques du Centrafrique (1992) by Jean-François Schiano, Musiques de Guinée (1992) by Yves Billon and Robert Minangoy, Mozambique, au pays des timbilas chopes (2000) by José Baptista and Robert Genou. Apart from the above mentioned items, there are also some portraits of artists from Mali, such as Ali Farka Touré (1999) and Nahawa Doumbia (2001) carried out in collaboration with the ethnomusicologist Henri Lecomte, in which we can appreciate the influence of the “portrait-film” style of the ethnomusicologist John Baily, who was trained at the National Film and Television School  (NFTS ). A great deal of the above mentioned films were shown at the Festival del Film Etnomusicale in Florence (Italy) for more than two decades.
Other documentaries about traditional musicians from West Africa are also very interesting. Among them, we can mention Doudou N’Diaye Rose by Jean-Pierre Janssen (1986) and Djabote, Senegalese Drumming and Song from Master Drummer Doudou N’Diaye Rose by Béatrice Soule and Eric Millot (1992), both focused on the legendary figure of the most important Senegalese drummer; Djembefolà (1991) by Laurent Chevalier, about the djembefolà (performer of djembé) Mamady Keita, Mopiopio, le souffle d’Angola by Zézé Gamboa (1991), a portrait of the Angolan society of Luanda through their musicians; Umubugangoma, L’arbre qui fait parle by Emilio Pacull (1992) about the royal drums of Burundi; L’Ile Rouge by Jean-Michel Carré and François Chouquet (1990), an approximation to Malgache music under the supervision of the great flutist Rakoto Frah, who is also the subject of a short film movie by Camille Marchand titled La sodina (1997); Distant Echoes: Yo-Yo Ma and the Kalahari Bushmen by Robin Lough (1993), which portrays a curious meeting between the great cellist YoYo Ma and some African bushman musicians from the desert of Kalahari; Njaga Mbaay: Le Mâitre de la parole by Laurence Gavron (2001), a portrayal of the most famous griot from Senegal.
As a response to the increasing demand of documentary films about world music, the number of documentaries about world famous African artists has multiplied: Fela Kuti: Music is the weapon by Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff and Jean Jacques (1982), Manu Dibango, silences by Béatrice Soulé (1990), Youssou N’Dour: l’étoile de la Medina by Jean-Pierre Janssen (1988), You Africa! (Youssou N’Dour) by Ndiouga Moktar Ba (1993), and Ali Farka Touré by Marc Huraux (2001).The same applies to popular urban African music, like the Nigerian juju in Juju Music! by Jacques Holender (1991), the Congolese rumba in La rumba by Olivier Lichen (1992) or ’highlife in Evolution of Highlife Music by Francis Sasu (1993). We also witness the appearence of the first fiction films about African pop: La vie est belle (Life is Rosy) by Benoît Lamy and Ngangura Mweze (1987) tells us about the incredible adventures of young Kourou (Papa Wemba), who leaves his village to work as a musician in Kinshasa. The fiction structure is similar to the cult-movie The Harder They Come by Perry Henzell (1973) whose main character is the reggae singer Jimmy Cliff in the role of Ivan O. Martin.
The South African ethnomusical documentaries deal in a very particular way with the relation between music and the sociopolitical context, that is to say, between protest songs and Apartheid: Songs of the Adventurers by Gei Zantzinger (1988), based on the investigations by David Coplan, explores the poems (difela) sung by the original miners from Lesotho; A Lion’s Trail by François Verster (2002), about the complicated story of the royalties of the song “Mbube” by the Zulu musician Solomon Linda; and Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony by Lee Hirsch (2002), (which is) about (the) protest song as a way to fight against Apartheid.
The ethnomusical cinema in the Nineties and following years has been able to offer interesting alternatives to the inflexibility of the conventional approach (based on the alternation of concerts and interviews) by producing up real auteur films (in 35mm) to be screened at international film festivals. In relation to this, Tony Gatlif has set up a new school with his Latcho Drom which tells the story of the gypsies and their migration from Rajasthan to Andalusia, showing only the sounds and images. Here is a very original and innovative approach — halfway between documentaries and fiction — that represents a substantial change in “film-making”. In this sense, taking the African continent as a reference, it is interesting to compare two documentaries on the same topic, the Pygmy Baka from the Equatorian forest in Cameroon, but completely different (if not opposite) approaches: Phil Angla’s Baka, People of the Rainforest (1988) is a classical documentary with a BBC style (with no clear boundary between ethology and ethnology) and a voice-over commentary underpinning the images that show the daily and ritual life of the Pygmies. Baka (1995) by Thierry Knauff, an oleographic documentary in 35 mm —and inexplicably— in black and white, has no comments at all and is only built on images, sounds, hymns, narrations, environment noises, details, looks, silences.
The last tendency comes from young filmmakers, not ethnomusicologists but simple ethnic music enthusiasts motivated by their own intellectual curiosity, who have been able to portray with the camera the “other” music-cultures in greater depth. Two films, almost contemporary with each other and both focusing on an individual character, deserve to be mentioned. Both are about a colored musician and his story: El acordeón del diablo (2000) by Stefan Schwietert, based on the figure of the old Afro- Colombian accordionist Francisco “Pacho” Rada, master of the accordion and the greatest exponent of the vallenato music (Colombian accordion-based music); and I’ll sing for you (2001) by Jacques Sarasin, a documentary about the Malian singer and guitarist Boubacar Traoré, in which the author manages to show the images, sounds, noises and talks of his friends, except for the main character, “KarKar”, who just expresses himself with the guitar, not uttering any word .
To summarize, the issue is whether an auteur film, or better an ethnomusicological but not ethnographic-musicological documentary, can reach ethnomusicological relevance. The documentary or fiction film production has lost the level of specification needed to assume the status of scientific since its ultimate aim is not the portrayal of the “ethnographic truth” and because it has “distorted” the reality in favor of the aesthetics; by way of compensation, it has become even more humanized so that it now appears as a “human face documentary”, showing its own poetics and demonstrating that it is possible to narrate a story or some occasional events expressing the “pathos” and showing the emotions, memories and feelings of the characters through the latters’ story, life, words and music, so that the characters themselves become the true protagonists.
In the last few years, the fiction-like documentary is not aimed at preserving the testimonies of peoples and cultures in the process of extinction, but at portraying “one” (not “the”) reality, telling stories about people and sounds. What it is being presented in those films is closer to reality because it represents the subjectivity of “classified” men rather than that of the filmmaker, that is to say, his own way of perceiving the world (and the music) and representing himself. The most difficult dimension to be filmed, which according to Edgard Morin constitutes the terra incognita in the sociological and ethnographic cinema, is given by the “emotional tissue of the human existence” (Morin 1962:4), in other words, what connect the people to the sounds.