Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Just singin' and dancin' in the rain

13èmes Rencontres INGENIEUSE AFRIQUE Festival de musique et d'art africain.

The town was taken over by the festival for 3 days, and a little African market sprang up in a car park which was blocked off specially by the Mairie. You could buy African cooked specialities at the little restaurants that sprang up, buy African clothes, wooden carved masques, etc. There were classes that you could sign up to, to learn to play different types of African instruments and drums etc. Of course the weather turned from sunshine, to rain for the next three days.
At one corner of the car park, a man dug a small pit in the grass and set up his bicycle wheel powered bellows to enable this charcoal filled pit to get up to the required temperature for him to demonstrate how bronze items can be made using clay moulds. No security barriers, the crowd pressed closely about a metre away, sparks flying everywhere, a health and safety nightmare.
I watched as he made something that looked like an oddly shaped duck. The small crucible in which the molten metal was contained was shaped like the bottom third of a one litre plastic bottle of water.
He emphasised the need to be careful, as he started off by tapping the excess molten metal off the lip of the crucible as he tried to pour the metal into the tiny opening of the mould. He quickly got fed up with that method as it was too slow and just used his hands (yes the crowd did gasp) instead to knock the excess onto the ground. Once the mould was full, he poured the rest of the molten metal onto the ground. He then took off one of his sandals and started hitting the red hot slag with his foot. Again more gasps of disbelief.
He put his footwear back on, (after all you never know what bits of broken glass etc might be lying around).
On evening one, I was on the point of going out to the first concert, but thunder, lightening and torrential rain changed my mind.
Evening two and despite the drizzle I headed to the Halle au Grains to listen to the free music concert. The place was packed and I could not really see much. I like to be at the front at concerts to see what is going on. After a few tunes, I headed home, determined that the next day, I would get there early to get a good viewpoint.
When I arrived the audience was clustered around something going on in the middle of the Halle floor.
According to their publicity, La Complet'Mandingue was born in a small village in the Drome (an area of France). This kind of magic place which inspires simplicity. It is a magician who leads the musicians to meet, to share their love of the music, and more precisely that that of percussion. This group has built up a repertoir inspired from the traditional Mandingue music, this music comes from West Africa where rhythm is part of each moment of their life.
Playing their portable balafons, they were somewhat bizarrely dressed, a bit like a cartoon band from a Disney film perhaps. You may or may not notice that many African instruments are shaped a bit like willies or boobs, or maybe my glasses need replacing. Last week I was forcibly removed from the LeClerc fruit and vegetable section!!

The young lady certainly knew how to handle her coconuts, but it seemed to me that most of the men were not doing a good job eith their bananas.
Once they had marched off, I went to the front of the stage to wait for the concert to start.

First, one of the musicians who had been running music classes came on stage to give us a couple of songs. Zacky Diarra with his n’goni.

And especially for Hilary who has probably just finished her bottle of wine and is now resting in a horizontal position.

I have no idea what the difference is between a n’goni and a kora. I might try to find out one day.
Ba Cissoko ; a group from Guinea (I think) which fuses traditional music with a more modern style followed him. The leader of the group was the first person to electrify the kora, earning him the title of the African Jimi Hendrix.

The performers certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, and were all smiles.
While the drummer (whose birthday it was) was doing his thing. A man vaulted over the security barrier, shortly followed by his? young lady, for a bit of wild dancing.

How different from a great many western groups who come on grumpily just to do you a favour.
In the middle of all the excitement, the organisers received an envelope from the Mairie, stating that their festival had been voted the best organised, best publicity, nicest people etc etc of all the summer’s festivals held that year in the town, so they could come back next year for a 14th year. And the summer isn’t over yet..... plenty of time to watch people in restaurants blowing smoke in each other's faces. As Dickens wrote in Great Expectations "What larks Pip, What larks!" (from memory)

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