I was debating whether or not to go the Mama Africa Festival for a few weeks and it was only when the deadline for workshop registration came around, that I actually pulled my finger out, panic’ed and booked as many workshops via text message that I could.
I live near Nice in the south of France, so a 4 hour Trip in Italy wasn’t going to be too difficult for me to manage, and it’s not every day that such talented teachers nad performars are in the same place at the same time, let alone so close by.
I planned to leave at 6:30 am, but waking up at 7:30, and jumping into the car in my pyjamas didn’t take away from the beatiful early morning light on the mediteranean landscapes. My first experience of Italian driving and trying to make my 11:30 Sidiki Camara workshop mean’t I woke up pretty quickly.
So here’s me an Irish Man, living in France driving through Italy looking for the drum and dance of Africa. There’s something very special about driving through forests and small Italian mountain villages, following big green Mama Africa signs and overtaking Fiats, and arriving way too easily to the thunder of drums and smiles of faces.
I had only missed perhaps half of Sidiki’s workshop, but managed to catch up on the first 3 solo phrases I had missed. I was really glad to have mostly made it, because Sidiki is a great / patient teacher with clear material.
After the class I wandered around a bit and found a nice quiet place to pitch my tent and met a couple of Senegalese and Italian neighbours.
Then I sat down to my first ever Harouna Dembele workshop. I was really excited, having seen a bit of Harouna and Parisi (his previous band) on you tube.
This particular workshop had been relocated to the main eating area (after rain the previous night) and there was plenty people around, including Dartagnan and his band. As such the workshop ended up being about 40% performance. He is certainly an extremely impressive player and there was plenty of whooping and crowd pleasing.
Day 2 (Saturday)
I woke up early to make it to my 9:00am workshop with Harouna. I say early because I had spent some meeting the locals the night before… We learn’t Chologo, from Cote d’Ivoire, which I had never heard of before. I really sweet dundun melody with a spacious dundunba part.
With barely enought time to say ‘Alora’ and say ‘….un cafe late pour favouri’. I was off to the first
xasonka dunun workhop. I was “lucky” enough to to arrive in time to get a proper “Jeli dundun”, which meant I spent the next 2 hours trying desperately to do the bell in my hand, the Jeli dunun style.
I immediately made plans to arrive late the next day as the material itself was already crazy difficult without trying to figure out this damn fangled bell technique. Even with a normal bell, I would have struggled to pull some of the phrases off, and I would have considered myself to be a fairly competent dundun player before.
Not only that, I was bemused to find that I was probably one of the weakest dunun players in the whole class anyway! It was a level 2 (of 2 levels workshop), but dang them Italians can play!
That night an improptu dundunba re-inforced that thought, as I saw the best fote djembe playing I’ve ever seen….
I really felt like a child in a candy shop all weekend. There was the great classes taking place all day, with djembe players like Harouna Dembele and Sidiki Camara appearing out of nowhere to rip it up for the dancers.
My friend Enrica was equally in heaven as she did 5 hours of dance on Saturday, and why not, no better time for dancing with such amazing energy and music everywhere. I had never before seen a dance workshop that had a balafon and Harouna, and them Burkina calabash drums and 40 people playing Sangban.
The performance on Saturday night was pretty Epic, as a lot of the drum, dance, balafon, Kora and singing teachers came together to give a really strong performance.
They called themselves “Guinea”. I’m not clear how long they (and how many of them) played together before, indeed I’ve seen other videos calling them Wamali, but they seemed to be led by Dartagnan who plays with Ba Cissokho (previously Circus Baobab).
Plently of full on Guinea Style warra warra, on a beautiful stage, to a very appreciative crowd.
It’s a special thing to see so many people with a common passion come together to appreciate such a rich musical and artistic culture.
2 people from to different countries, neighter African, can come together, and even though they can’t understand each other by verbal communication, they can play diansa and connect in a way only this music can allow.
Thank you Mama Africa, I am sure a lot of volunteered time made the magic happen. May you double in size again next year, I’ll be there and you should be to!
ps – thanks to Raica for the amazing photos!