By Lisa Vives
Festival season is around the corner in West Africa despite ongoing insurgencies that have hurt tourism.
The region has long been known for its music, dance and cultural shows, among them the Amani festival in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which opened on Febuary 4. Congolese rumba took the place of honour after its recognition from UNESCO as the world’s intangible cultural heritage.
Two years ago, the festival, named after the Swahili word for peace, drew a crowd of 36,000. It is a rare for such large numbers to come together in one place.
This year’s theme is “Playing for Change, Singing for Peace.” “We are coming together… to show the world that life still exists, that we are aware that a better future depends on all of us and that we must work together to build it,” organizer Guillaume Bisimwa said.
Véronique Djehinan Lou is an interpretive dancer from Ivory Coast living in Niger. This year, she was invited to Mali’s Fari Foni Waati dance festival this year, but the day she arrived, on Jan. 9, was the day the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, imposed travel and economic sanctions on Mali, closing land and air borders between Mali and its West African neighbors.
Lou is unsure of how exactly she will get back to Niger. In the meantime, she performed as part of a group dance piece in an auditorium packed with adults and neighbourhood children.
“We artists are just doing our thing,” she said. “We’re just one voice. We’re the voice of the people. We don’t know when all these problems will be solved, so we just continue our party.”
The 2022 Ogobagna Festival is a week-long Dogon cultural festival held on the Niger riverbank in Bamaka, now in its seventh year. It’s theme was The Place of Women in our Traditional Society.
Agna is another festival, from Feb. 22-26 in Koulikoro, western Mali.
Amassagou Dougnon, president of the Malian festival’s organizing committee, urged people to put aside their fears and come to the programs. “No one is afraid to come here,” he said, “because it’s a place of culture, a place of exchange, a place of dialogue, and this is the best kind of place for people to gather to talk and de-stress”.
“Even though many participants could not make it to Bamako this year because of the travel embargo,“ added Drissa Samake, managing director of the Blonba center, calling off the festival was never an option.
It’s during times when the country is facing crises that it’s even more important to hold these cultural activities, he added.
“Nothing can unite so many people during this period like these cultural events”, said Samake. “It’s important to us to create what we call social cohesion.”
Finally, as some who have visited music festivals on the continent in previous years, several famed festivals will be on hiatus.
The Festival in the Desert, for one, is currently in exile due to the unrest in Mali. Organizers of the event will be putting together tours and concerts around the world with many of the Malian artists that have performed in previous years so keep an eye out for Mali bands coming to your region.