‘The Griot’ is an exploration into the intricacies of love, tradition and opportunities [Pulse Review]

November 23rd 2022, 1:50:43 pm
The Griot

Griots in Africa have always been transmitters of history, passing on oral tradition and culture from generation to generation.

These storytellers or musicians, who are often the oldest in the tribe are key to the understanding of our historical vestiges and heritages, especially in a world that has sought to be replace our beautiful linage with Western narratives.

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Often drenched in mysticism and legend, stories and poems from griots have helped with the retention of African history and gone a long way towards building the moral architecture of these societies, all of which permeates most of our legislations and policies.

To cite the Mali-based musician Baba Salah, “The Griots are the guardians of history. In our culture, everything is oral. There isn’t a written language. A majority of the people here can’t read. So it’s the Griot who transmits the history from father to son, mother to daughter. That’s why in Africa we say, when an old person dies, it’s like a library has burned down.”

Being a Yoruba lad born in south-western Nigeria, my childhood was drenched in tales that held my senses of imagination in bondage. This is why I was immediately filled with a sense of nostalgia when I heard the news of the Adeoluwa Owu-directed ‘The Griot’ movie. I was instantly endeared to the film.

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Scripted by Temiloluwa Fosudo and Dapo Lanre-Badmus, the movie follows a timid but talented storyteller, Lakunle (characterized by Lateef Adedimeji), who narrates his stories to his friend, Sanmi (acted by Temiloluwa Fosudo), however the latter ends up taking credit for Lakunle’s tales.

Things worsen when Sanmi becomes infatuated with Lakunle’s heartthrob, Tiwa (Goodness Emmanuel, who doubles as producer and executive producer).

During the course of the movie, Lakunle has to brave the odds against his weaknesses, and seize the opportunities availed to him before he could claim his rightful place.

For viewers who deem the movie to be about love, their sentiments are correct as ‘The Griot’ explores love, relationships, and how the dynamics of engagements are navigated in a traditional Yoruba setting.

This is seen in how Lakunle’s father emphasizes on how they have to pay their obligations to the intended bride’s family to formally seek Tiwa’s hand in marriage. It also exhibits the intricacies of class and status in relationships, and how society often disregards relationships fastened by couples from different societal classes.

The movie also examines the institution of traditionalism in Yoruba societies, and how absolutism thrives in these contexts.

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For instance, the Oba Adejare of the fictional Wakajaye Land (played by Funsho Adeolu) rules with absolute authority and without question, depicting the clear hierarchy of the traditional leader being at the top of the pyramid of the societal structure.

Also, the movie shows respect accorded to the traditional institution by the Yoruba people, as individuals in the society show full respect to the Oba during his walk, despite his ailing health.

It also exhibits the bond between a ruler and his people, and his quest to cater and create a sustainable legacy he would be remembered for.

This sends the message that these institutions, despite steeped with absolutism, are held in trust in satisfying communal interests, creating a sort of balance of obligations between the ruler and the ruled.

Most importantly, the movie is a tale of opportunities. Lakunle is blessed with the gift of storytelling, but he is too timid to project his talents. Sanmi, on the other hand, is blessed with courage, so he leeches off Lakunle’s storytelling gifts to propel himself into acclaim and grace.

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Lakunle’s inability to tap into his talents denies him of opportunities that might have accumulated to his favour, and almost cost him his relationship. So, it tells a tale of seized and missed chances.

‘The Griot’ shines in its ability to perfectly convey a Yoruba narrative with the English Language, and in how it does not lose its essence whilst trying to portray a culture in a narrative told in another language.

The wonderful mix of Yoruba and English as well as the careful and meticulous manner Sanmi told his stories, and the well-executed acting (especially from Lateef Adedimeji) makes the movie retain its quality as an exposition of cultural heritage.

The storytelling and cinematography makes the movie an interesting watch, retaining the attention of its viewers till the end.

The movie's weaknesses emerge towards the end. The scenes where Sanmi returns to exert revenge on Lakunle, but ends up killing Tiwa does nothing to futher the original narrative in any special way, except to infuse violence in an unnecessary point of the treatise.

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Structured like a story told under moonlight for children, the movie does little to prove itself as a film pushing new boundaries. Also, the acting of its sub-characters, especially from the comedic acts, are not as effectful as it should have appeared.

Nevertheless, ‘The Griot’ succeeds in creating a project dedicated to portraying tradition, traditionalism and insightful perspectives. It also elevates the legacy of our Griots in Yoruba, and African societies by extension. The movie is a testament to Nollywood’s quest in promoting indigenous narratives.

Critic's Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Adedimeji Quayyim Abdul-Hafeez
Adedimeji Quayyim Abdul-Hafeez is a creative storyteller and freelance journalist from Nigeria. He loves the reels and films, and is invested in promoting the film culture in Nigeria. He can be reached via mail and on Twitter @quayyimbakr


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