“This movie is real life magic, enjoy.”
These are words uttered by film director and musician Samuel Bazawule popularly known for stage name Blitz the Ambassador. These words were delivered to an audience occupying seats in the theatre before the screening of the film took place. Refusing to say a lot about the film, Bazawule chose to rather give assurance that we were about to be blown away.
Through different stages of the making of the film, we had the opportunity to get a glimpse of where it was and where it was leading to, Bazawule updated us on social media with attractive photographs by Ofoe Omegavie showing us behind the scenes stills of the film. If you follow Bazawule’s pages you might be familiar with the burning blue Beetle car we first saw in 2017, the image of a girl holding an umbrella under golden sparks, at some point we saw her holding hands with a male elder. One of the pictures that come later on Bazawule’s pages was one of a couple admiring the clear blue sky in an isolated area of wooden houses surrounded by water. This caused a mystical puzzle that built a love for this film even before I saw it. Finally seeing the movie, I realised what the images sold was a drop of the magic it possesses.
The 7th of December 2018 at 8pm was the first night of the film screening of The Burial of Kojo at the Bioscope in Maboneng Precinct Johannesburg.
Bazawule’s definition of artistic work can be viewed as the kind that aims to evoke beauty while simultaneously tackling very important issues concerning people of African descent in the continent and in the diaspora. He has done this through his outstanding sonically moulded Hip-hop music albums which incorporate genres like jazz, Afro Beat and Apala (just to name a few).
Accompanying the music is his visually gorgeous music videos and short films that tackle issues such as patriarchy, alienation, immigration, identity, and spirituality. A scan in his work shows that Bazawule particularly has an interest in exploring the unsettling issues through children, portraying them as conjurors or spiritual vessels.
Once again, in The Burial of Kojo, the Ghanaian born musician and filmmaker brings together unpopular themes yet very important to the eye. He brings in the recently burning topic of illegal mining of gold by the Chinese in Ghana. According to Nikkei Asian Review, in June 2013, 124 Chinese nationals were detained in Ghana for illegally mining gold.
In an article recently published by Nekkei Asian Review, Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo Addo said, “We have a big problem in Chinese involvement in illegal mining activities in Ghana… [and] we have decided to do something about it.”
Other themes taking the centre stage in the film is brotherhood and guilt. Bazawule offers us the human story situated in the illegal mining saga where two brothers, Kojo and Kwabena are tied together by a tragic accident that took place 7 years ago. Kojo’s attempts to escape and forget about the past brings it back to his presence – forcing him to confront it and work towards amending his relationship with his brother. In pursuit of this, he finds himself stuck in a mine hole needing to be saved.
Another very interesting, yet hidden theme observed in the film, is the feeling of longing and seeking. This is explored through Ama, the wife of Kojo who seldom utters a word, but is rather a dreamer, she dreams of the finer things in life. This persuading Kojo to consider going back to Accra after 7 years since his refuge in the isolated beautiful water surrounded area. Ema’s gigantic seeking presence helps us to vividly see that Kojo is unsettled and discomforted right from the beginning of the film.
Bazawule presents to us the beauty and power of spirituality through the consciousness of Esi, a spiritually gifted child, who is visited by supernatural figures demanding her to pay attention to messages that eventually resolve in conflict concerning the living and the dead. Through Esi’s determination to help her father, we later learn that Kojo’s guilt pulled out Kwabena (who is dead) from the spirit world, into the world of the living.
Esi’s character is the mightiest and most significant in the film as she is the smartest and is incredibly brave. Through Esi’s character, we’re able to reimagine our confrontations and behavioural patterns towards children (which often entails not acknowledging their intelligence) and their minds within our social structure. Esi has a very close relationship with her father, he treats her with tenderness and respect in dialogue, she is listened to and heard- this maintains her significant role in the film.
In an essay by Dr Frances Cress Welsing, ‘Black Children and the process of inferiorization’ she notes, “If the children’s lives are squandered, and if the children of a people are not fully developed at whatever cost and sacrifice, the people would have consigned themselves to certain death.” Welsing brings attention to the fact that children are the most valuable possessions and have the greatest potential to save a people’s future.
Esi’s inquisitively brave and caring character brings about a reminder that children should be considered as important models within our homes and community. Children are always alert of the pleasant and unpleasant realities of our being and have the potential to save us in future and very possible in the present.
One of the most appealing sights about the film is its lively visual excellence almost manipulating the viewer to think of it as a 3D movie. The beauty is maintained from the very first frame depicting flowing water, to the mining site filled with stones creating a feel of texture. Another alluring aspect about the film is scenes solely flashing the colours red and blue to set different moods, whether it’s sorrow, wonder or conflict between characters. The colours represented and conveyed so much without any verbal exchanges from the characters.
Contributing to the visual excellence is the depiction of the beautiful melanated skin colour of all the main characters. Colourism has been an open discussion for some time now; change in media representation of dark-skinned people is a critical demand. In media platforms, we’ve been presented with the dominant representations of dark skin being victimised or depicted in the ugliest form – the darker the character, the more brutal- the villain they become. In the Burial of Kojo, we see heavily melanated skin in its most beautiful form despite the role of the character. In the movie, Kwabena (who was not my favourite character because of his bullying and manipulation towards Kojo) is still an attractive man with beautiful skin.
Our exposure to African images and African beliefs has largely been presented in a negative light, however, in this film, Bazawule’s offering displays the ultimate beauty of African images and spirituality, helping me understand, acknowledge, and appreciate my “Africanness” better. Maybe true liberation and enlightenment can come if embracing spirituality (and every part that makes us African) becomes a centre point in navigating towards solving our problems today.