Africa: The Beat

Nonstop music and the filmmakers' avoidance of overinterpretation make Tanzania-set doc a pleasure

A 15-year musical research project inspired Javier Arias Bal and his partners to make a film.

MONTREAL — A mesmerizing chunk of musical anthropology that's deeper and more specific than the usual global eye/ear candy, Africa: The Beat observes a year in "the heart of Tanzania" and finds a community where, the filmmakers claim, not a single minute of life passes without music. Though more substantive than something like Baraka, it also lacks the spectacular cinematography that draws auds to those films; what its modest video cameras capture, though, will be appreciated by ethnography-minded festivalgoers.

The product of four-person collective Samaki Wanne, which includes only one professional filmmaker (the other members are two musicians and an artist), the doc chooses and sequences material based mostly on musical appeal: Its opening shot, of women rhythmically pounding corn, segues smoothly to clips of singing and other daily rituals. Viewers may suspect they're in for a long-form music video in which editing is dictated solely by a clip's beats-per-minute reading.

Not so. The doc's editor soon proves to have both an attention span and a methodology: The film follows the pulse of time, from sunrise to night and from one dry season through heavy rains and harvest.

The film is fascinated by the ways this tribe, the Wagogo, does almost nothing without a song, chant, or tapped beat to accompany it. (This habit isn't unique to them, of course, but musicologist Javier Arias Bal assures us it's more pervasive here than elsewhere.) It showcases plenty of impromptu work songs and the like, but also sets aside ample time for more formal music and dance, with straightforward titles indicating the purpose or meaning of each event.

If outside threats or internal strife ever afflict this village, we don't hear about it. The doc is so positive-minded it doesn't even include songs of grieving, which one assumes must be a significant part of the Wagogo repertoire. The omission may look Pollyannaish to some, but seems the natural result from artist-filmmakers smitten by the creative output of this community, not looking to convince viewers to write a check for charity.


Production Companies: Samaki Wanne, DIKA Producciones, Luis Vallejo, Candela Films

Director-Screenwriter-Editor-Producers: Samaki Wanne Collective (Javier Arias, Polo Vallejo, Manuel Velasco, Pablo Vega)

Director of photography: Carmen Ballvé

Sales: Candela Films

No rating, 59 minutes