Togolese puppeteer. When his mother died during his childhood Kanlanfei (who was given the name Djanwale Kanlanfei) was taken in by his uncle, Danaye, who was a maker of tcitcili (also cicili), magically powerful images of the ancestors. Danaye taught his nephew the art of divination and other local knowledge as the boy took his uncle’s name, becoming Djanwale Danaye. Danaye followed his uncle in sculpting traditional images.
After a dance and theatre workshop, which introduced him to masks and puppets, held in Lomé, capital of Togo, the youth became fascinated with puppetry after seeing the work of Théâtre de la Pomme Verte (Green Apple Theatre). He made his first attempt at animating his creations despite initial opposition by some of the elders who saw performance as sacrilegious. Danaye, after a religious ceremony of exorcism, was allowed to continue making secular images for his art as a puppet master. He has always strived for modern creativity, but he also defends tradition and affirms the sense of the sacred.
His string puppets are made of wood, calabashes, iron strings, bottle caps, papier-mâché, fabric, as well as recycled objects and material. In 1975, he was hired by the Théâtre National du Togo (National Theatre of Togo) and the Ministry of Culture as an organizer of cultural events and, in 1976, he created the Compagnie Danaye (Danaye Company). After meeting Olenka Darkowska-Nidzgorski of the Musée de l’Homme (Anthopology Museum) in France in 1978, he performed at the 4th Festival Mondial des Théâtres des Marionnettes (World Festival of Puppet Theatre) in Charleville-Mézières (France). Then with the help of a fellowship from the Union Internationale de la Marionnette (UNIMA), he received further training, primarily at the National Puppet Theatre in Budapest.
He was the director of the Théâtre National de Marionnettes du Togo (National Puppet Theatre of Togo) from 1979 to 1996. He was also the creator, in 1996, of the first International Puppet Festival of Africa – the Festival International des Théâtres de Marionnettes en Afrique (FITHEMA). He founded the Maison de la Marionnette (House of Puppets) in Lomé (Adidogomé) in 1997, which serves both as a place to create and produce shows and also as a centre to train puppeteers, with a workshop for puppet building, an exhibition area, and a rehearsal space. The organization today employs up to fourteen members.
Danaye is the general secretary of UNIMA–Togo, which he created in Lomé. Compagnie Danaye, composed of about ten artists, does not receive any government support. Since its creation, the group has helped train some forty puppeteers and eight independent companies in Togo. As a segment of the repertory, his company has developed educational shows focusing on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases awareness, and has developed a programme with Lomé’s École Ephphata pour les Sourds (Ephphata School for the Deaf). The group also performs in rural libraries to promote literacy. Issues of the environment, the flow of rural populations to the city and other social and political themes are also addressed in his work.
Internationally acclaimed since the 1980s, he is a regular performer at the MASA (Marché des Arts du Spectacle Africain, Market for the African Performing Arts) in Abidjan. Danaye travels internationally, directing workshops for creating and manipulating puppets for children, adults and teachers in Europe and in Africa. His puppets have been collected by museums in the United States and Europe (Copenhagen, Paris, Warsaw). His many productions tour France on a regular basis and include Le Mariage de Sossou le chasseur (The Wedding of Soussou the Hunter), Les Dieux fétiches (The Fetishes of the Gods), L’Arbre qui parle (The Talking Tree), Premier conseiller (First Counselor), Zando et sa trilogie (Trilogy of Zando), Zaanimal, and Golotoé (Divine Gourd). The character of Zando, which he created in 1988, inspired his children’s, book Les Aventures de Zando (Adventures of Zando).
Author, sculptor, stage director, puppeteer, and artistic director, Danaye Kanlanfei can manipulate fifty string puppets in a solo show. In 2004, he presented a rerun of Les Aventures de Zando at the Musée Dapper in Paris and Golotoé ou la Gourde divine at the Festival de Lusseray in France. In 2005, he gave numerous performances in many festivals in Africa, France and Poland. A French television series on world puppetry featured his work in an episode in 2012.
- Albaret, Lucette, and Olenka Darkowska-Nidzgorski. Tchitchili tsitsavi. Marionnettes d’Afrique [Tchitchili Tsitsavi. Puppets of Africa]. Cahier No. 13. Paris: ADEIAO, 1996.
- Danaye, Kanlanfei. “Toute ma vie, rien que des marionnettes!” [All My Life, Nothing But Puppets!] (Information collected by Olenka Darkowsja-Nidzgorski). UNIMA informations. No. 61-62: L’Afrique noire en marionnettes [Puppetry in Black Africa], 1988. (In French and English)
- Guez, Nicole. “Kanlanféï Danaye: le magicien” [Kanlanféï Danaye: The Magician]. Balafon. No. 119, décembre 1994 – janvier 1995.
- “Danaye Kanlanfei” Biographie. http://www.africultures.com/php/?nav=personne&no=5663. Accessed 28 June 2013.
- Kanlanfei, Danaye, and Catherine Akpo, with illustrations by Isabelle Malmezat. Les Aventures de Zando [Adventures of Zando]. Paris: Musée Dapper, Fondation, 2004.
- “Togo le maître de marionnettes et ses enfants – Extrait 1 [Togo: The Puppet Master and his Children]. http://vimeo.com/68993525. Accessed 28 June 2013. (From Puppets from around the World – Episode 3: Togo: The Puppet Master and his Children [Film] 2012 – firstname.lastname@example.org)