2002 Friend, Well Come!. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.
Notes: DVD, 27 minutes
Reviewed 12 May 2010 by:
Jack David Eller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Community College of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA
Medium: Film/Video Subject
Senufo (African people) - Funeral customs and rites
Music - Côte d'Ivoire
ABSTRACT: This short film features 18 minutes of unnarrated orchestral funeral music from a West African society, with a few minutes of introductory comment, focusing on the long career of Hugo Zemp and his relation to the Senufo people.
Death is a fact that we can do nothing about. Music is an artifact of completely human invention and performance. Should we be surprised that humans bring death, if not within their control then at least within their grasp, through music—that they use music (and other art forms) to culturize death?
Hugo Zemp is an ethnomusicologist who has worked with the Senufo of northern Ivory Coast for forty years. In “Friend, Well Come!” he begins by recollecting his first exposure to the people and their music: he first heard them in 1958 as he was driving by with some missionaries, who let him out to listen but refused to listen to the pagan ceremony themselves. Over black-and-white still photos, Zemp makes a few comments about the social organization of Senufo society—particularly the men’s and women’s sodalities—and about the musical instruments, including the drums, wooden ‘trumpets,’ and especially the balafon or xylophone-like instrument.
For the making of the film, Zemp returns four decades later and happens to arrive at a village just as a funeral is beginning. The family of the dead man (a blacksmith in life) receives gifts from their neighbors, including cloth for wrapping the body. Soon the first Senufo orchestra appears, the oldest and most prestigious type of orchestra which is essential for funerals. Then a second orchestra comes too, the type that is most popular among young people (although we non-Senufo have a hard time distinguishing the difference between them). After their initial performance, the orchestras withdraw to the location of the preparation of the corpse.
In text displayed on the screen, Zemp tells us, “Since the dead man was a blacksmith, the orchestra of this artisan group comes in next. It consists of 4 drummers, and a flautist who isn’t here yet…. Then the invited orchestras can begin playing, independently, but all at the same time. The more orchestras and participants in the dance there are, the more splendid the funeral is considered to be.” The sons of the deceased in fact honor their father by organizing a magnificent funeral (much in the same way that a Western funeral is at least as much for the survivors and the audience as for the dearly departed). As the body lies on a sheet on the ground, it is wrapped for burial in several layers of cloth. Multiple orchestras provide a cacophonous background, and the men pay the musicians by slipping payment into their pockets. The orchestras and participants eventually begin a slow procession around body, which becomes louder, denser, and more ebullient as the 18 minutes of music (without narration) pass. By way of explanation of the long musical but non-discursive segment, Zemp offers in screen-text, “With this 18 minute sequence-shot I wanted to recapture that unforgettable experience in real time.”
Like other films recently reviewed on this site (including “Funeral Chants of the Georgian Caucasus” and “Horses of Life and Death”), “Friend, Well Come!” explores the cultural and artistic management of death, obviously specializing in the music of mortuary rituals. And like the former of these, it offers little in the way of ethnographic context, opting rather to give the viewer a putatively pure experience of local music and behavior. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure cultural experience, every experience being mediated by the knowledge (or lack thereof) of the society. As a raw ethnographic document, “Friend, Well Come!” is important, but most audiences of students or the general public would probably lose some interest during the (to our ears monotonous) instrumental section. Fortunately, Zemp includes four short extra features on the disc, including segments on the balafon and a music class. Users of the film can also find more information on Senufo music and instruments (which are much more varied and complex than shown in the film) at http://www.spurlock.uiuc.edu/explorations/online/senufomusic/resources/glossary.html and can hear a wider variety of Senufo music at http://www.artistdirect.com/artist/songs/senufo/582761. Finally, the film is part of a series called “Masters of the Balafon” including such titles as “Funeral Festivities,” “The Joy of Youth,” and “The Wood and the Calabash.”
Level/Use: Suitable for high school and college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of religion, anthropology of art/ethnomusicology, and African studies, as well as general audiences.