Dancing with the Diaspora
FESPAM CONGO :
In 2001 the music festival of FESPAM intervened in the war : Arms were dropped and never lifted again : President Sassou Nguesso spent two weeks hiding in the roof of his palace during the unscheduled invasion from the giant across the river (20KM). Kinshasa. Congo Brazzavile has a 70% natural forestation that you must receive signed permission from the president to access! braza la belle!
MASA ABIDJAN :
The glorious port city of Abidjan, the cultural crossroads of West Africa, becomes a great location for the convergence of Pan-African performing arts during the biennial MASA festival and market. Abidjan is a beautiful city, and MASA is a major festival , a place where musicians from all over this diverse and fascinating continent can come together in showcasing the expression, dignity, pride and music of this continent.
MASA, a grand gathering of musicians, artists and art professionals is a week-long celebration of African unity through music, theatre, comedy, dance, storytelling and sustainable business networking. The prestigious MASA event was started in 1993 as a biennial event dedicated to the promotion and reinvigoration of the African performing arts.
MASA is a performing arts festival and market combined. This integrative approach is building sustainable networks between performing arts practitioners, both on and off stage.
For the festival component of the event, MASA facilitates a generous movement of artists and their works, within Africa and throughout the world, selecting artists representing countries across Africa and the African diaspora to perform at the main festival; called ‘MASA IN'. Up and coming artists travel from mainly the West African region to participate and showcase their musical and dramatic heritage, in a free street festival and showcase; called ‘MASA OUT'. These showcases have an excellent reputation of being the first step on the road to recognition for rising stars and important cultural initiatives. The exquisite Palais de la Culture, situated on the water's edge, is the primary venue. A state-of-the-art 1500 seater theatre hosts the MASA IN music festival and the smaller 600 seater venue hosts the cream of the MASA OUT showcases to be attended by delegates and broadcasters. Stands accommodate industry and business initiatives from the performing arts. These promotional stands are an opportunity for Pan African record labels, management companies, development agencies and other initiatives in the performing arts value chain, to promote their services, sign new artists and network for new business. With an estimated daily visitor-ship of more than 5000 people, the MASA event livens up the city of Abidjan and increases the commitment of the local population, whilst contributing to the development of arts and culture.
Abidjan is one of the most diverse cities on the continent. As a port city it accommodates a high percentage of foreigners from all over the region. And Ivorians are themselves a people united in diversity, with approximately 60 different ethnic groups.
"There are many traditions and ethnic groups in Cote D'Ivoire and Africa in general," tells Boni Gnahore. "Each tribe must have, its interior movement, its way of seeing, its inspiration, its energy. These energies fuse together to form an African tradition and with the different languages there is such a diversity in Africa. Our work as an artist it is to put these things together. We try to only find the elements that unite to create an equilibrium of energy in Africa."
Music is central to many religious, ceremonial and healing practices, and this importance hasn't died with time, it is still central perhaps only slightly modernised - and the importance of the griot pervaded the entire MASA gathering. No longer to be a griot is a birth right, nor a restricted ceremonial giving in your village, the musicians have strongly taken on the responsibilities of the people, creating awareness to all the subtle difficulties in Africa and pushing the general consciousness into a position that will hold and nurture the hopes and aspirations of the future generation.
"When a president comes to the village, there is music, when you marry or die there is music. There is a strong culture, it is a factor of unity in Africa," tells Cameroonian drummer Eric Alania.
"I," says Oumou Soumare, "sing for the emancipation of the woman. Formerly, the woman did not have the right to learn, they did the housework, went to the field's, occupied the husband and the children but today that changes. One sees women ministers, judges. In Africa it is hard for the women, they have to wake at 4 hours in the morning, they prepare the breakfast and amend the fields for the men and help them to collect and then they return and bring the lunch, then they will cut wood, transport it, look after the children. The woman is practically never at rest, it is difficult."
"The evolution is necessary," says Eric Aliana. "Even if the tradition is used it should be given an international dimension. The international world can learn from African stories and let them learn from ours."
Flights to Abidjan kindly sponsored by South African Airways. Visit to Congo kindly sponsored by the ministry of Arts and Culture Zimbabwe and Congo Brazzaville : Research and interviews archived at ILAM (International Library for African Music)
2018 African music, writing, philosophy and multi-media creations © Struan Douglas