“I got to break and get into theater writers.” Author and director Souleymane Bah, 46, will receive the RFI Theater 2020 award for La Cargaison on Sunday 27 September at the Festival des Francophonies, Les Zébrures d’Automne, in Limoges. The text from the Guinean author, exiled in France for four years, invites us to a “macabre stroll” populated by ruined destinies, stranded somewhere.
Relaxed and determined at the same time, equipped with an easy opportunity to choose words and speech, during our meeting with the winner, Souleymane Bah’s strong personality emerges from the first sentence. Even greater than his joy at having won the RFI-Théâtre Award is his pride in having taken up a challenge that he for a long time seemed impossible.
“For me, this means recognition of my work as a writer. Of course, I already have a long career as a director, but I recently started writing for the theater in 2016. For me, writing for the theater has always been something I was afraid of. I often say: I broke into theater writers. Having this award is recognition, a tremendous pleasure and a great honor. ”
A political fable
The winning text, La Cargaison, is a political fable, similar to its previous piece, Danse avec le diable, presented by RFI at Avignon Festival 2019 in the Ca va, ça va le monde lecture circle! In La Cargaison, the author’s obsession with detail is tangible from the title, commented on with a remark about the chronology of the text to be respected. Of course, the sequence of historical events is sacred to Souleymane Bah: “This is something very important in the context of this piece. It’s a polyphony. Multiple bodies and objects speak, people who have died without forgetting everything around the corpses: cemeteries, equilibrium, etc. To me, the speech of all these objects and all these people is not necessarily an orderly speech as I ordered it . That is, the cemetery may have spoken earlier than the lighthouse or vice versa. Or maybe they are all talking at the same time. They do not have to listen to each other. So the timeline I put in the room is just there because you need a timeline. Afterwards, each instructor has the freedom to use the chronology he wants. ”
“Stuck in a world that is not ours ”
The play is about people “stuck in a world that is not ours”. It is a sinister, deadly world, plagued by suffering, complaints and the total despair of people stranded somewhere. This “macabre stroll” gives rise to a frightening universe that has not quite been brought into the world by the author.
“The play is strongly inspired by the murder of eleven young Guineans after a demonstration in October 2019 as part of the fight for a change in the constitution and the desire for the current Guinean head of state to run for a third term. The bodies of the eleven young people were caught by the two extremes: the FNDC movement, which is fighting against the amendment of the constitution [permettant à Alpha Condé de briguer un troisième mandat présidentiel, ndlr], would offer these bodies a grand funeral. On the other hand, the state, the power does not want things to happen that way because it will show the world the oppressive nature of the state. The bodies were caught in this trap and they had a hard time getting buried. Some were even in a state of degradation. The play is strongly inspired by these corpses, which we have dragged for a long time between one hospital and another … ”
To account for this horrific story, Souleymane Bah tries to sublimate reality, evoking emotions that stem from bodies and words. “At some point, these bodies will become symbols of a political struggle. The question I ask myself is: do the organs really want to stay or become this place where the two powers are fighting to either retain power or to break power from the other? George Floyd in the United States or Adama Traoré in France, the bodies of these two people have become symbols of a political struggle. Would George Floyd, where he lies, where Adama Traoré in his coffin, want to be in that situation? ”
Between poetry and punchlines
La Cargaison’s writing style oscillates between poetry and punchlines. The legacy of a writer who has long written for the satirical weekly Le Lynx in Guinea and continues to be productive in this field. Even before the prologue to La Cargaison, we discover a word pyramid, a poem that does not say the name. Then he comes up with passages worthy of a rap song: “it shoots,” “it bites,” “it dies.”
“Yes, it’s a little punchlines. I write a lot of satires, columns for a Guinean satirical radio station. So I really like playing with words, this striking power that a word can have. Each character arrives with their own emotions and their own vocabulary and language. This alternation between poetic moments, cruelty in words and moments of violence is built on the character of the universe. ”
Souleymane Bah and the theater, it’s a long story. He was born in 1973 in Conakry and becomes the eldest in a family of 14 children. His parents come from a small village, Tchianguel. And for Souleymane, going to the theater was not easy.
“For my father, the theater was a bit complicated to accept. I come from a society, Peuls, where we often associate the theater with some of the banality, where we play, dance … And from a very Islamic, this can only be done through Satan’s support. So this was something that was complicated for me. But in the beginning, the theater came to me through writing. Which is paradoxical. Before I wrote, I started looking. I have always been afraid to pick up my pen to write. ”
But when he wanted to tell things, he started writing, not novels, but plays: “In Guinea, people are not known for being good readers. Thus, the theater actually becomes the most “simple” tool that makes it possible to transmit the message that I want to transmit without there being a reading restriction for people in a country where reading does not exist. is not the strong point. ”
Mentor Djibril Tamsir Niane
From high school, Souleymane Bah set up a theater company. The choice of the squad name was not innocent: Djibril Tamsir Niane. Born in 1932, this prominent historian and playwright was imprisoned under the Sékou Touré regime for his writings before going into exile in the 1970s in Senegal. He will be a spiritual guide to young Souleymane.
“The decision to give his name to the troupe was the desire to honor this monument, which is recognized in Guinea but also outside the country, as one of the greatest historians in Africa. Afterwards, he created a bond, a closeness with this man that guided me in many things: my way of writing, of perceiving Guinea, he lived in prison … with the greatest chance, after knowing him later, I shall do a job with one of his daughters, a former actress of Peter Brook, who comes up with a major theater project in Guinea. Me, I find myself in it, wearing the protagonist of his game. At that time we came to play the piece here in Limoges at the Festival des Francophonies. ”
Exile in France
After growing up in Guinea and graduating as a journalist at the University of Conakry, he studied and did his doctorate in information and communication science in France at the University of Lyon before returning to his country of origin. But after his work as communications officer for Guinea’s largest opposition party, the UFDG, he was charged and sentenced to life in prison. Refugee in France since 2016 started his artistic talent around the themes of Guinea and exile: “Guinea is something in me and will always remain in me. It is a country with which I have a close relationship. Throughout my life, going into exile has been – perhaps after my father’s recent death – the most violent thing. It was awful to leave Guinea. But afterwards I came from a very religious family. I was educated in the belief that what happens to people was prescribed is fate. So I also assume that what happened must happen. ”
Turning difficulties into opportunity
Since his exile in France, he has been trying to turn difficulties into opportunities. The RFI-Théâtre award corresponds to that. When I went into exile in France, I had only written one piece. For four years I have been writing a piece every year. If I had stayed in Guinea, I certainly would not have had time for it. The people who put you in exile assume you are traveling and they tear you down. Everything you believe in stops. You are nothing more. And that’s what I refuse. And the theater allowed me that: I continue to exist and live and do what I like to do. ”
He speaks six languages, Poular, Maninka, Soussou, English and even a little Arabic, but with French he has a very special relationship. Like all young people from the countries that France colonized, I initially had a “conflict” relationship with France. But me, I quickly adopted the French language. For me, the French language is a way of experiencing the world, that I can not live, or that I have a hard time living in my own language because there are codes, a certain restriction of freedom. The French language allows me this freedom. ”