A Swallow’s Tale | Africa Day
Department of Foreign Affairs
Africa Day is an annual celebration of the continent’s unity that falls on 25 May each year. In some African states it is a designated national holiday while in cities around the world academic gatherings and cultural showcases mark the day.
This year, we were asked by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to create a video celebrating Africa Day. The brief was loose with the only stipulation being that it needed to be celebratory in tone. The timelines were tight. From briefing to completion of the film we only had two and a half weeks. Creatively, we felt that it was important to highlight the shared connection between Ireland and the continent of Africa in a way that elevated and empowered Africa and its people. We felt it was necessary to speak to African immigrants living in Ireland as a primary audience while giving the vital messaging to Irish natives that celebrating diversity can only add to our own culture.
We started with the idea of an interconnecting story that has music at its heart. We worked with stakeholders within the DFA and bought them on the journey, explaining that the video would be much more effective if we used storytelling as a device and made it powerful, beautiful, poetic and emotive. We wanted the story to convey a subtext surrounding immigration and the idea of a one worldliness.
Once we decided that the creative would centre on the idea of an Irish and an African storyteller telling interconnecting stories, we began casting. Aindrias was chosen because of his charisma, his incredible fiddle playing and his colourful use of language (often incorporating Irish). Zeenie was chosen because of her amazing storytelling skills, her beautiful singing voice and her on-screen presence. We also cast a variety of African/Irish musicians who played traditional Irish and African instruments.
The story was specially written for this film, drawing on West African and Irish mythologies. It was written collaboratively by bigO, Zeenie Summers, Aindrias De Staic and Prof. Kelly Fitzgerald, Head of Irish Folklore and Ethnology, University College Dublin. After a brainstorming session between bigO, Prof. Kelly Fitzgerald and the two storytellers, the themes of music, home and gods and magic, shape shifting animals and, most importantly, the swallows emerged. Taking all this onboard, bigO crafted the story, which the other parties sharpened in accordance with their own storytelling styles. Thus A Swallow’s Tale was born.
“That was called home because home was where the people were”
The film A Swallow’s Tale captures the spirit and shared connection between Ireland and Africa. With strong traditions of storytelling, music, dance and tales of mythological deities and fantastical creatures, there is a vibrancy and expressiveness to both cultures that is unparallelled. Just as the swallows go and come and come and go from Africa to Ireland bringing birdsong and magic, this film illustrates that when we invite the rhythm of our Atlantean neighbours into our hearts, we have the opportunity to create new stories and dance to new songs. The film features an Irish seanchaí Aindrias De Staic and a Nigerian griot Zeenie Summers as they both tell the interlocking stories of the swallow; showing what can happen when the music and the rhythm takes over.
Aindrias De Staic
The song that features in A Swallow’s Tale is called The Arrival. It was written especially for the film and features Zeenie Summer’s vocals as she sings “I have gone, I have arrived, I have come, I have arrived, I have come, I have arrived.... Iyemọja '' in Yoruba. The song also samples a traditional Irish song The Swallow’s Tail; marrying the two cultures beautifully
The composition is in a 6/8 time signature, which is quite unique to the traditional music of Ireland and parts of Africa. This has led some to speculate that because of the migratory routes of the swallows and other songbirds, the people who settled in these regions heard the bird song and mimicked its melodic patterns.
The dance performed in the film is called the Luhya dance, from the western part of Kenya. It is performed mostly during the period of harvest. The dancers also incorporated some Irish dance in their choreography.
The costumes the dancers are wearing are called “shuka” which are tied up as a top and skirt. They added the “lesso” (wrapper ) on the waist to enhance the dance movements. The crowns/ headbands are handmade with elastic band and pearl beads, similar to the ones worn by the Massaai people in East Africa. The colours they wore are to depict the Iyemọja story and the colour of the ocean the deity represents.