Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 20, No. 45, Ed. 1 Friday, March 12, 2004 Page: 40 of 72
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Bi bi Bizet
Transplanted to Senegal, 'Carmen' is back, and she sizzles In 'Karmen Gel'
By Steve Warren Contributing Writer
If a movie showed African Americans singing
and dancing as much as the characters in
"Karmen Gei," and filling the time between with
drinking, card playing, screwing and drug smug-
gling, it would be denounced for negative stereo-
typing and would make a fortune at the box
If that movie were as well made as "Karmen
Gei" and had as charismatic a
star as Djeinaba Diop Gai, its
success would be deserved.
Since "Karmen Gei" was filmed
in Senegal and deals with
Africans who speak and sing
mostly in subtitled French, it
escapes the P.C. Police but also fails to reach a
wide American audience. If its main character
weren't bisexual — giving it access to a niche
audience of queers — it might not have been
shown in the U.S. at all.
Other than Karmen, the names have been
changed from the familiar opera but most of the
story's elements are here, with a few significant
Karmen (Diop Gai) has her legs spread in the
opening shot and rarely closes them thereafter.
The setting of her first dance, though not initially
clear, is the courtyard of a women's prison. And
the stern woman Karmen seduces on the dance
floor is Angelique (Stephanie Biddle), the war-
B Starring Djeinaba Diop Gai, Magaye
Niang and El Hadji N'diaye
Directed by Joseph Gai Ramaka
March 14 at 8:30 p.m. Sundance Channel
Back behind bars, the other women sing to cel-
ebrate Karmen's bisexuality: "You attract men
and you make women undo their robes ... Hide
your women, hide your men. Karmen has come!
She who creates havoc is here."
A night with the warden earns Karmen her
freedom in the closest thing "Karmen Gei" has to
a sex scene. (It was enough to
get the film banned in Senegal.)
With Karmen on the loose,
the traditional story develops.
After a public disruption, a
young soldier, Lamine
(Magaye Niang) is ordered to
take Karmen to prison. She seduces him en route,
and he throws his life away for a night in her
arms. When he's jailed in her stead, she and her
friends break him out and give him a job in their
Rather than a bullfighter, the celebrity who
next woos Karmen is a singer, Massigi (El Hadji
N'diaye), known as "The Rooster." His beautiful
voice lures Karmen from Lamine's bed, and they
become something of an item. Though unlike the
emotionally needy Lamine, Massigi is as casual
about it as Karmen.
In what, combined with "Possession," briefly
looked like the return of an unwelcome trend, the
lesbian character kills herself. Ironically, Karmen
decides Angelique was the one person she truly
might have loved. Her funeral is held in a church
with a white pastor and a black congregation, one
of many points the film simply presents without
explanation for us outsiders.
The story proceeds to its usual
tragic ending, in a concert hall
instead of a bullring.
"Carmen" has been rein-
terpreted in all kinds of
styles and settings,
and I don't think
there's been one I haven'
enjoyed. Director Joseph Gai
Ramaka localizes the story in
a way that keeps outsiders at
arm's length culturally while
drawing us in emotionally.
Though some of the lyrics
remain in the dialogue, there's
none of the familiar music in
this version of "Carmen." The
score is a combination of
indigenous Senegalese music
and original jazz by American
saxophonist David Murray.
What you'll remember longest
about "Karmen Gei" is its star.
Like Zeze Motta in the Brazilian
"Xica da Silva," only much more
beautiful, Djeinaba Diop Gai is a
force of nature — the personification
of the human sex drive. Her long, braid-
ed hair, bare but tattooed feet, dazzling
smile and free spirit will stay with
you long after the last note of
HER MILKSHAKE IS BETTER THAN YOURS: Switch-hitting Karmen (Djeinaba
Diop Gai, center) seduces and leaves a trail of heartbroken victims.
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40 I dallasvoice.com I 03.12.04
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Vercher, Dennis. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 20, No. 45, Ed. 1 Friday, March 12, 2004, newspaper, March 12, 2004; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth238885/m1/40/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.