Lazi greets me, a stranger, with hands pressed together, fingers pointed upward, He smiles,, and without knowing anything else about him, appears to be an emissary; in the broad sense, someone who carries a message. Lazi projects ease, certainty and good nature. I initially understood him to be an artisan and painter solely. The colors and patterns on his table, exquisitely woven or hewn into wood, metal and paper, communicated cultural information from his homeland in Burkina-Faso.
On a social media profile, Lazare Sié Lazi Palé defines himself, as we all do these days, using a few words and phrases: Artiste, Réalisateur Cinéma d'Animation, Musicien et Marionnettiste. Lazi is all these occupations, remarkable in itself, but they are simply credentials which he organically created over time to further his vision. Lazi smiles and laughs when relating both his story and the story of a people with whom he remains intimately connected. In fact, he and his wife are working hard in New York City to acquire the means to tell stories, traditional stories, previously passed on through music or recitation and instruction, particularly by elder grandparents. These stories embody the identity of Burkinabé and that region of the world. Lazi’s mission is to preserve this instruction, now being lost at a fast rate: The community of elders, the keepers of this knowledge, are passing away.
Lazi realizes film and animation might be the only accessible means to bring to the children of Burkina-Faso an understanding of their own history and creation. He recognizes the economic and logistical impossibility of the new world order and that members of his groups need to assume the role of grandparent:
“A lot of stories have been lost or forgotten. Before people listened to their grandmother who instructed them where their family was from. Now grandmother has no time to talk and the kids have no time to listen. Young kids like to look at animation. Animation can teach the children where their family is from in this day and age.”
“I have tried to do a lot of things.
In Africa there are problems, both political and economic. A lot of young people seek work. A lot. People in my family and in my community, contact me every day. ‘Lazi is in New York. I hope he can help us,’ they say. ‘Can you help us with work, with money?’ They have a big hope for me. This is a big responsibility. When I wake up, every morning, I feel the debt I owe. If there is only me, no problem. But it’s not only me.
So, I need to work. I am an artist.
I stopped my school early. I attended some college but not university. When I left school, I started working in music with a young man who is not here now. He died. I began to learn music in the family of the late Baba Kiénou, a great figure of the traditional music of Burkina Faso. I stayed with this family a long time where I was taught a lot.
As a musician and actor, I joined the theater company: Marbayassa. Marbayassa is the name of a traditional dance ritual of West Africa, it brings fertility to women who can not conceive.
During my 5 years with the company, we made a number of educational creations: the importance of going to school, the importance of protecting oneself in an epidemic, how to protect and get water.
In Burkina Faso, getting water is a big problem, a very big problem. Here you turn on the tap and can run the water for a week. In Burkina Faso, you walk 10 kilometers to get a bucket of water.
We carried out a number of projects on how to protect water, how to conserve water. Water is a blessing: we consider it a blessing. With Marbayassa, we have produced a number of creations on several themes of sencibilisation (sensitization) and education.
The Marbayasa Theater Company is very well known in Burkina Faso and it was a pleasure to share these moments with them. While working with Marbayassa, I was contacted by the Compagnie du Fil, a puppet company. I agreed to work with them because I also wanted to learn to make and play with puppets. So I stayed with the company for two years to learn the world of puppets.
I also created my own company, Afriqui Dénou (Child of Africa). We started writing stories for children. We ended up doing theater and produced a lot of stories. These were presented for 2 years we presented a show per month at the Institut français, in Mali and Sengal and in Burkina. I have a great love. We presented 50 stories in total. (Laughs)
In Burkina Faso, public schools have big problems. There are normally 100 children learning per classroom and it is well known, you can not teach as many students. It was impossible to present our work there. There were no resources to allow us to do that. But public schools are the places where all the young people of Burkina Faso are educated. This is where we need to perform.
In colleges there is money and these institutions can offer their students better opportunities, but the majority of the population can not afford to attend these schools. They can not afford to pay tuition. We can present our work there because they are richer. We can not present work in schools where it would be important. We can only present in these private schools that do not represent the true community. The public school is the real community but they have no money and they are overwhelmed by their number of students. They do not have the resources to receive us. No money, no time, everything is bad - (laughs) - 'You have to go to the Minister of Education,' they tell me and get permission. But the Minister of Education can not help us. The system is overwhelmed. It is money.
This is when I got the idea to transform the puppet theater, which tells the traditional stories, into film and show these stories on television so all the people of Burkina Faso would have access. This is why I switched media from puppets to video.
But it got more and more complicated. When I started, it was very difficult. I stopped everything to learn what I needed to know. Nobody understood what I wanted to do at first. When I told them I wanted to make videos of the theater to present on tv, nobody understood what I was talking about. (laughs) And I was told, ‘Stop. It’s not possible.’ I went to all the TV stations. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry. . . ‘ Every one of them said sorry. I went to the minister and he didn’t understand. This is a problem. No money. They don’t understand. I just needed equipment. They say no. No money.
People are afraid of what is new and say no, disappear. (laughs) But if you do it and people see it's good, then everyone wants it. (laughs) So I decided to stop working and come back to music. But as soon as I stopped, one day I received information about animation training. I applied and was detained. There were many applications, 50 different applications from 7 African countries.
I took 3 months to learn what I needed to know. They promised to finance a film but the money never materialized. When we finished, I talked to the manager: "I need a space. I want to switch to television with what I learned in 3 months. He said, "OK, I'll give you a laptop and a camera." It was Gaston Kabore, director and director of the Imagine Institute. He gave me a place and I did LE PARRAIN (THE GODFATHER), a short film of 20 minutes. It took two years.
They came to see my film and I had the opportunity to do an internship in Turin, Italy, to learn to do animation. There, I made a one minute film (laughs) and through it, I had the opportunity to go to France. I was the first African to attend this school. I accomplished in 6 months what is normally done over a period of 3 years.
I received a Turin scholarship attended the ANNECY Festival. Annecy is the city of animation, hosting the largest animation festival in the world.
After Annecy, I went back to Burkina Faso and started teaching younger people how to do animation. I had a computer and a camera at the time and a place at the IMAGINE Institute. If you asked someone: 'Where is Lazi?' Or simply, 'Where is the guy who makes the big puppets and plays at N'GONY? They will all tell you: 'Go to the institute. He's there.' Students from all over the world, including Americans, are attending this program with director Gaston KABORE. I taught a master class of African animation while I was there.
The problem is not only for the guys who work with me in the films – it’s a small staff – this provides for them – but there are so many others without the possibility to do anything- opportunities like that need to be created for young guys in Africa
Last year when I was here I took the time to see animation school. The problem here is if you come from another country, you need papers and generally, American degrees. (laughs) I need someone to look at my work who understands what I’m doing. If you get the right person who is an artist they will be able to see the vision. This would be perfect. But everybody needs money.
I am married and together with my wife, we are selling art – this creates exposure for one thing and it’s easy to sell while we work on our big project.
I hope I don’t take long time doing this. All we need is to get a good person who understands. America loves cartoons and everybody recognizes animation. I want to make African cartoons. I need the work conditions in order to make animations in Africa. We can make some money here and bring the animations to film festivals. An African Animation Film festival in New York City is my goal. I already know all the people who make animation in Africa. It’s a small world over there. And we want to bring it here.
Something interesting happened in France and it’s very important for me to tell you about it here. When I went to France and explained myself, what I wanted to accomplish, still nobody really understood me. You can make animation in my country a lot cheaper than you can in Europe or the United States. I presented to them a small budget and they didn’t think I was serious. (laughs) 'You’re not serious,' he said. When I took this same budget to minister in my country, he waved his hands and said, ‘Oh no that’s too much!’ (laughs) Two different worlds.
To make a short film, for me, would cost 100,000 US dollars in my country. (laughs) In Burkina Faso, we do not need one, two or even ten million dollars to make a film. We can make 100 films in my country with this kind of money."
Lazi hadn’t mentioned his painting. I thought his paintings were as remarkable as any of the art work he had showed me. I asked him why he didn’t say anything about his paintings.
“I don’t talk about my painting. I don’t see myself as painter. I like to observe. I can leave my stuff, my paints and canvases for one month, two months and when I return, I’m in the right frame of mind and pow pow pow – I make a lot. I don’t say I’m going to sell the paintings. – I say don’t go to sell – I have a friend who tells me Lazi, its good. – I say please don’t sell my paintings. This gives me more lea way to get better. If you get into the sell movement, this can sometimes be a problem, prevent you from getting better.”
See website below and additional contact information:
Lazare Sié Palé
Réalisateur / Metteur en scène / Musicien
01BP:1071 Ougadougou 01
Tel port: 0022678786694
Tel fixe: 0022650345109
Président d'AFRICANIM (Association Africaine du Cinéma d'Animation)
Le JT, a short animation by Lazi on global warming issues: