Florentine Yameogo 
          Burkina Faso

Originally published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film Video and Television. Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ,  2000.

Interview held at the 15th FESPACO, February 1997, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  Translated from French.

I find the focus of your film, Melodies de femmes, about women having their say through songs particularly fascinating.  Could you talk it?

Melodies de femmes, which is 24-minutes long, is told from the perspective of a young girl from the city.  She recounts the lives of the women of her village who express themselves through their songs.  The songs are used as a means of expression in traditional society.

Could you describe your experiences while making the film and why you chose this subject?

I chose this subject because often when I went on vacation in the village, the women sang a great deal.  They sang when they were grinding millet, on their way to the river to wash the clothes. Generally, they sang when they worked. When they sing they send a message and sometimes this message expresses their joy, pain, suffering or aspirations.  I was struck by the singing and asked them why they sang.  I was told because they did not have the right to speak, particularly in public.  When they left their homes, they could not express themselves.  It was forbidden for a woman to raise her voice.  The only thing that was tolerated were songs, which allowed them to express whatever they wanted.

Often these were societies where there were polygamous marriages, and there were several co-wives.  When there is resentment among co-wives they sing to show this.  When they feel that their husband favors one wife over the other, they sing about this while working.  The husband feels that he is being attacked but he cannot really hold it against them.  And this goes for other situations that they live.  Thus, singing is their only means of expressing themselves.

I have observed as time goes on, that the women sing less and less.  Before, I noticed that they worked mainly at the mill where they crushed grain, which was prepared for batter made of millet or corn and then cooked for the main meal.  Today, with the modernization of technology, there are automated mills that are being installed just about everywhere, even in the most remote villages.  This means that the women now go to the mills only to drop off the grain, they line up their recipients in front of the mill and they return home.  Of course, this also means that they no longer sing.  They also go to the public faucets where there is running water or to the water pumps, rather than to the river.  Often there is jostling and pushing, one woman declaring to the other that she arrived first.   This means that not only do they no longer sing, but they also squabble among themselves.

In the past, the singing was a very elegant means to live their experience.  When I realized that it was disappearing, I wanted to preserve this practice by doing this film.  I also wanted to let the children, especially the city dwellers who do not know about this tradition, discover that another way of expressing oneself exists.

Read the entire interview