After ten minutes of sensitive negotiation a small and rather hole ridden pirogue rolled onto the sandy shore of the River Niger. We climbed tentatively over its tall sides that rocked wildly as we moved through its long body. Staggering to sit ourselves down on the wood-plank seats we couldn’t help but feel it had been Olivier’s Bambara negotiations that had got us such an exclusive view. As we Bobbed our way around the stage of Festival sur le Niger, the lights of the other lanterns twinkled orange, red and gold. While the sounds of Oumar Koita’s band drifted over the water and the crowd struggled to the front, we cruised happily towards the stage.
Lighting cotton balls in lanterns in preparation for our pirogue and its twinklely voyage
Enjoying the view of Festival sur le Niger on an atmospheric and rather unofficial pirogue trip
Olivier attempts to put out a minor boat fire, whoops!
Our brave young ‘Pinase Tigi’, (master of the pinase), he insisted on lifting the balls of fire with a combination of chopsticks and his bare hands!
The Festival organisation was pretty impressive; local crafts stalls with artisan work from all over West Africa, draconian wrist band control from men in high-visibilty vests and, the wonderful navy of lantern lit boats every night- simply to decorate the River Niger. It all seemed rather extravagant for the normally quite modest Mali. But the Festival provided a showcase for the rich and colourful culture of this region, and being the largest Festival in West Africa it did great justice to its objective.
Imran and Flo enjoying the music
Kasse Mady Diabate brings his powerful voice to the stage
After a minor boat fire we returned to the shore for the last of the evenings music and as we finished our wonderful holiday in Segu we reflected with other musical friends on the challenge that lay ahead of our project. Given the high quality and incredible musicianship both at the festival and within the band we are lucky enough to be working with we found ourselves feeling a little daunted by the new week of rehearsals.
It seemed we were right to feel a bit overwhelmed. When rehearsals arrived on Monday we realised just how much work we had before us.
“But with music, anything is possible.” Andra spoke with a reassuring wisdom that gave us both the confidence we needed. Concerned we might be forcing a western style on our fellow musicians Andra once again brought wisdom and encouragement to our discussions.
“I’m not interested in African styles, or European styles… Music is music and that’s what I’m interested in.”
And so, as our work multiplies and the challenges become greater we really begin to understand just how much we will learn here. For all of these realisations we have, we sometimes still make mistakes and get it wrong. But sometimes you have to get it wrong in order to get it right. And that, in itself, is quite exciting.
Our lovely host Anilde and the ‘Segu family’
Mikaela sings a few tunes in the courtyard of Anilde’s lovely home
Laundry day outside our beautiful lodgings on the River Niger
Dusk and time for soundchecks
Posted in Music, Travel
Tagged 'biggest festival in west africa', 'boat fire', 'cotton balls', 'festival on the niger', 'festival sur le niger', 'kassy mady diabate', 'Oumar Koita', african, bambara, Bassekou, bassekou kouyate, challenge, cruise, culture, fire, laterns, mali, music, negotiation, niger, pinase, pirogue, segou, segu, style, travel, west africa
Reaching Ke-Massina had been stressful. Imran had watched his guitar fly off the roof of our moving bus onto the dusty road behind us and we had both begun to wonder if our long journey from Bamako would be worth it.
The driver didn’t seem to think a guitar would need attaching
But to our surprise the guitar survived its fall at 50 km per hour and as we arrived in the tiny village things began to look up.
A nice welcome committee
Greeted by dinner and friendly faces, we had a quick jam before jumping in a pinasse to cross the River Niger reaching the small island of sand where the Festival Culturel Waakono would take place.
As we left the pinasse and paddled through the river water to the island we spotted the small stage area. Fairy lights flashed neon blue, strung over wooden poles with electrical cables creeping over one another. Large crowds of locals gathered, a circle formed around the stage and the smell of brochettes warmed the fresh river air.
Imran and Flo enjoying some music
It was not difficult to see that this festival was different. A little bit special. Organised and financed by Malian musicians for the benefit of the local people and for us, a lovely place to play our first gig of Mali…
The ride back to Segu was much more fun than anticipated
Posted in Music, Travel
Tagged "adama yalomba", "music cycles" mikaela parrack, adamayalomba, bus, fall, festival culturel de waakono, guitar, Imranino, jam, ke-massina, mali, music, niger, pinasse, pirogue, river, segou, segu