CLOSE UP: BINTOU DEMBÉLÉ, MEMORY OF THE BODY

I am an engaged artist, I create cultural projects around creation, and in this case dance. I try to apply different ingredients to it, and I like to find the essence of the hip hop culture that nourished me. The name of my company, Rualité, is a wordplay with street and reality (in French, “rue” and “réalité”, ndlr). I wanted to reflect what was happening on the street, our daily life, the way of moving we have. I love it when it’s crowded, I can get around people. I remember my mother taking me to the market in Barbès (Paris 18th). I’m super loaded, I have her groceries, but I absolutely have to follow her because it goes super fast, and I’m dodging everyone. It’s a way to perfect my movement. There are also things on the street, like racialized people, that are invisible in the media. I wanted to start from that to evoke my reality, my point of view, and how it has an impact on me and my speech.

«With S/T/R/A/T//E/S, I felt the need to transmit the dance, but also
the whole frame of mind behind it, taking into account the violent context
of today, with a crazy racism that has reappeared within recent years »

S/T/R/A/T/E/S, it’s a performance that brings together two dancers, Anne-Marie Van aka Nach in krump and me with a hip hop hybridity, a vocalist, Charlène Andjembé, with the idea of using the vibration of her voice as an instrument, and then the musician, Charles Amblard. It came at a fundamental time in my life when I wanted to break up with the place I came from. I felt like a child of hip hop for about 30 years, but at one point I felt that it was no longer a motor, that it wasn’t enough for me. The woman dimension was completely left out as well as the political dimension because we had what we wanted, the success and the money, and it had taken us away from reality, from what we really wanted to convey. We had started in survival mode, we needed to make inaudible voices heard, and I think that as we went along, once we touched the light a little, we thought it was useless to look back! With S/T/R/A/T/E/S, I felt the need to transmit the dance, but also the whole frame of mind behind it, taking into account the violent context of today, with a crazy racism that has reappeared within recent years. All this questioned me a little: “What am I doing on the set? What is my place, my legitimacy? What should I defend or not?”

dembc3a9lc3a9.jpgPhoto credits: Christophe Raynaud de Lage

I felt like I wanted to change my skin, to change stratum. I had to rethink myself, think about what I’m doing, and it all started with a circle. I had the need to draw a circle on the ground so that we could reconnect each other as artists and talk with the idea of invoking intimacy, what I call the “memory of the body”. I also wanted to do a show where people feel more than they think. Our minds were so busy, whether it was with Islamophobia, terrorism, or police violence, the media and “thinkers” spoke about it thoroughly, but not the people concerned. There really was an absence, a confiscated word. Me, I want to dance to a point where people put their brains down and manage to feel this violence with the absence of words. I wanted to rethink the relationship with myself and others, to rethink the community with what it went through, what I went through, and with the idea that I didn’t have a DJ, but a musician, and I didn’t have a rapper, but a vocalist. It was great to be just about this vocal material and the difference in nuances that her emotions bring, that awakens and contaminates the emotions of others. We also used a whole conceptual sound device that exists in clubs where DJs have live software, it’s the connection with the idea of the underground, the street. For me, if there’s a word that defines hip hop, it’s “distorting”, and I took the liberty of distorting hip hop.

« I wanted to say a lot of things and at first that was hip hop for me,
it was because I had a crazy rage and I didn’t understand it.   
»

The hip hop culture has radically built me, with its lacks such as the image of a woman, and a black woman. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t speak English when I binged on hip hop, rap, Rn’ B, and remembered that there were only few tracks where I didn’t hear the word “bitch” and few music videos with a respectful image of the woman. I think I subconsciously rejected it because it didn’t fit in with what I wanted to be. I don’t just place  it in hip-hop, but women are often hidden or put at the service of men. To give an example, there were three of us in my family dancing. I was the first one, then there was my big brother, who is four years older than me, and my little brother who is one year younger. In spite of everything I was the “sister of”, I wasn’t Bintou. As much as the “girlfriend of” , I think it makes women invisible.

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Photo credits: Enrico Bartolucci

I felt the urgency to do a solo in 2010, I called it Mon appart en dit long (My apartment says it all, ndlr), still with the idea of how you inhabit your body. I think it has a different impact, it’s an individual approach when I came from a place where everything was thought out around the collective. It was singular and painful, I had physical wounds, but at the same time I had the feeling of changing my skin, with a renewal in the way I danced. The relationship to dancing alone is quite virulent, and inevitably you get hurt. I had a lot of tension, and when you finally let go, you wonder how you can be more flexible with yourself.

I wanted to say a lot of things and at first that was hip hop for me, it was because I had a crazy rage and I didn’t understand it. Then I thought, “What’s your problem, why are you like that, why are you mad?” It kept me from dancing. So I started looking into the
history of slavery, colonialism and then I saw the human zoos and colonial exhibitions. Then I thought,”Okay, I understand.” There’s a lot of stuff beyond my story that I wonder about in what I’m doing on the set, what I’m sending back. And then having this skin color is a problem in France, racism arises very violently on social networks with anonymity. For a few years now we have been seeing Afro-feminist groups in France because we question the fact that we don’t have a memory. What were the outstanding black figures in France? I feel like I didn’t have any. Our story is concealed, but I need to understand it and dig deeper.

 

 

You can find Bintou Dembélé and Cie Rualité on facebook.
Photo credits (1) Christophe Raynaud de Lage.

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