Over here, that’s ‘Are you ready to rock?‘
This past weekend was the much-anticipated Festival sur le Niger. It was just as monumental as I had hoped it would be.
I visited Segou earlier in January, and within the short period of a few of weeks between visits, the waterfront around the city center area had been completely transformed into a large space fit to accommodate the thousands upon thousands of people who mobilized into the city for the dances, exhibitions, events, and music performances. A giant stage had been built on the waterfront.
From the commencement of the festival on Thursday January 29 to the closing on Sunday February 1, the festival totally swept through Segou: acts were both Malian and international, and included such performers as Adja Soumano, Amazones de Guinée, Babani Koné (who you might remember from my last entry as this year’s big Tamani winner!), Vieux Farka Toure, kora master Mamadou Diabaté, and headliner superstar Oumou Sangaré. There was an incredible amount of talent onstage at all moments. Habib Koité even made a surprise appearance (during Friday night reggae headliner Oumar Koita’s set!
While all of the performers were great, two acts especially stood out:
First was Friday’s Adja Soumano, who with her awesome stage presence managed to move the entire overflowing crowd into a dance.
Then, on Saturday, Senegalese superstar Coumba Gawlo and her group brought the crowd to its feet even before their opening note.
After electrifying us all with her opening number, she sang her cover of Mariam Makeba’s classic song “Pata Pata”. Coumba continued the surprise by then halting the music to speak, giving a remarkably long lecture. “You came all the way to see this concert,” she told us, “so you might as well learn something!” (my translation). She told the crowd to avoid clandestine, illegal, emigration in favor of staying in their country to work and build it up. She gave warnings about the threat of HIV/AIDS. She told the women in the crowd to practice abstinence until marriage. She did all of this, all the while having the crowd respond and raise their hands as to whether they were in favor of what she said, and then she finished off her performance with one last song. I was stunned.
Then Oumou Sangare, the so-called “diva of divas” took the stage and finished off what was a stellar couple of days of music.
Other great events included an art exhibition of both Malian and international artists (including art from Mexico!), a colorful Dogon dance, a Bozo mask show, a second stage during the day which featured acts such the fabulous Mah Bara Soumano and , and, my personal favorite, a pirogue race. Pirogues are small canoe-ish boats, and the race took them what must have been about 900 yards. Check out some of my pictures here!
Though festival season is now over, it was great while it lasted. Now with the festivals over, my project takes a bit of a serious focus towards Bamako. I’m looking into getting more involved with film and student filmmakers, which will hopefully even enable me to help out with making a music video or two. More soon on that!
One last but very important note: my friends at Afropop Worldwide are celebrating their 20th Anniversary by having a benefit in honor of both Angelique Kidjo and Harry Belafonte. Their website for the benefit has now gone live and I encourage everyone to check it out. Of special note is the message from Malian kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté!