Kinshasa’s Music, Dreams and Shared Cinematic Realities: Musical Performance in Félicité (2017)

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Abstract / Description of output

Music is unusually visible in French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis’ Félicité – not just the intense, authoritative vocal performances of the titular character (played by real-life singer Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu), a fictional singer in a Kinshasa bar band (actual Congolese supergroup Kasai Allstars), but also the orchestra and choir responsible for the underscore. With no narrative motivation, we see the musicians and conductor of Kinshasa’s Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra recording the Arvo Pärt music that then becomes the underscore for Félicité’s dreams and her frantic search through various parts of the Congolese capital for money to pay for an operation for her son. The focus of this paper is not primarily on how the film breaks from dominant scoring practices (like the principle of ‘invisibility’), or its cross-cultural stylistic diversity (thrillingly distorted Congolese pop juxtaposed with still, mournful Estonian minimalism). Rather, drawing on Ben Winters’ recent work, I explore the way the film uses musical performances to stage a truth about the cinematic experience – that it is inherently musical and shared in multiple ways. In blurring the distinction between observer/listener and participant/performer, and in allowing the characters to hear the music being made on the underscore, I consider how Félicité offers a profoundly humanist allegory for Winters’ music- centered, ‘non-realist conception of cinematic reality’. I also trace connections in Gomis’ use of sound and music to the work of another iconoclastic Senegalese filmmaker, Djibril Diop Mambety.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2019

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