Sound and image is combined to create the lyrical landscape of The Burial of Kojo, orchestrated by musician-turned-director Sam Blitz Bazawule and performed by Ghanaian locals. Dreams and reality cross-over in the eyes of Esi (Cynthia Dankwa), a young African girl who takes the centre-stage of this cabbalistic fable, the non-linear narrative following her as she interprets the dream realm in order to find her beloved father. The Afrobeat soundtrack acts as another carriage for Esi’s simultaneously childlike and knowledgeable vision of the world, recounted by her older self (the voice of Ama K. Abebrese) through the narration but keeping all the subjective nuances that come with young memories. The story provides details through flashbacks of Esi’s childhood and the relationship with her father, Kojo (Joseph Otsiman), and mother, Ama (Mamley Djangmah). Kojo’s strife with his brother Kwabena (Kobina Amissah-Sam), whose life in the city juxtaposes Kojo’s village and financial differences, leads to his disappearance and Esi’s desire to find him. These scenes are entwined with abstract sequences of human-crows riding horses against a pink sky to emanate childlike fears and navigation of pain. Creative, poignant, culturally-rich and poetic, The Burial of Kojo is a colourful piece of Ghanaian art.
Many themes can be found within this story – cultural ones such as the neo-colonialism of Ghana by Chinese corporations, law enforcement corruption, and the poverty that the locals are forced into; global themes of family relationships and rivalry become fully realised in this specific cultural setting. The Twi language spoken throughout the entire film (with Esi’s voice narration in English), and tales of the Sacred Bird and the spirit realm Esi must travel through in order to find her father are drawn from African fables, the types of stories that install themselves into a child’s mind to create real fears or beliefs that seep into reality. The magic of both a child’s imagination and the bold culture portrayed on screen provides such an intriguing foundation for The Burial of Kojo, directed and performed almost like a visual musical score that Blitz Buzawule clearly learnt from his virtuoso roots.
Although the story touches on cultural matters, such as illegal mining and land exploitation, the centre of focus is on the bond between daughter and father, and brother and brother. The differing portrayals of these relationships exemplify the difference between reality and dream; the real world is cruel and full of betrayal and poverty, but a child’s dreams can see past that. The story is, overall, about survival – what there is to survive against, and the ways of surviving – portrayed in an entirely rich and boldly abstract light that surpasses linear narrative to expand on reality. Cinematographer Micharl Fernandez has done a significant job alongside director Blitz Bazawule to convey all these facets that, together, make this film what it set out to be. The intense monochromatic lighting in scenes achieve a symbolism that throws the real-world up into the air, piloted by the child Esi in an subtle – yet impactful – performance by Dankwa.
At times, I did feel lost as to what was happening. It took a while to adjust to the pacing of the story and the ideas it was expressing, but once understood it becomes transformative as a film. To have a Ghanaian film directed, created, and performed by Ghanaians about Ghana in this artistic and unconfined manner, is important in its own right. The Burial of Kojo establishes a new type of experience that I’m excited to explore more of in the future.