Dancing with the Diaspora: A journey to West Africa

Dancing with the Diaspora:  A journey to West AfricaA journey to West Africa
Dancing with the Diaspora
by Struan Douglas

Introduction to the concept and series:

As Baaba Maal says, “I want people to see Africa in new eyes, to have a very positive interest of Africa, to know that it is not dead, it is always alive and people can give confidence to Africa. We have a lot of strong people who really want to do something, who really want to participate in the universal development, but deeply to help Africa to give the place that Africa needs to have.”

And that’s what Dancing with the Diaspora is about – facilitating cultural exchange and the freeflow of music across the diaspora to explore its diverse and eclectic tradition, experience its rhythm and reconnect Africa with itself through music.

African music is not so much an art or aesthetic, it is the essence and beauty of life – dancing with sound, subtlety and fury and striding rhythmically through the ceremonial spirits of the African people, across the disparate landscapes and fragmented history – from birth, initiation and marriage, to death.

And through exciting travel across the diverse and descriptive landscapes, dancing with the diapsora is about – hanging with the musicians, learning about the politics, experiencing the difficulties, witnessing the struggle and sharing the information – all in the image of Africa.

An afribeat.com initiative, the first part of Dancing with the Diaspora travelled the vibrant West of Africa a region with such an economic disparity and cultural opulence, regions known more for what they don’t have then what they do.

From Dakar to Bamako

A train line lies between two of West Africa’s greatest capitals, the filthy, fast, fickle and fantastical capital of Senegal, Dakar and the dusty, proud and stately capital of Mali, Bamako. It is a journey in excess of 1500 miles and 50 hours – dogged by the continual possibility of serious delay and theft and infected by the strenuous and soaring temperatures of the desert. But, it is an adventure across intriguing landscapes of vast distances, unmoving baobabs and antique villages with dignified inhabitants – and an adventure that through the contrasts, belies the fabulous cities that were my destinations.

As the train rocked, hovered, rattled, broke down, rose and made its way to Bamako and as the hustle, beat and bustle of the city life of Dakar slowly began to fade into a landscape of exceptional austerity, my mind drifted back to that crazy city: the fresh and placid ocean, the wonderful tropical belt, the glorious French architecture, the city that sees no rest or respite.

Panel beaten black and yellow taxis and marvellously conspicuous community busses congest the city centre hooting and hustling, whilst virtually incapacitated cripples and polio victims line some street corners like vultures relying on scraps as their only survival and traders prowl the others selling fruit, socks or bootleg cassettes as their only means. The desperation of the city hunches over the landscape – pointed, emaciated, unmoving, ominous and expecting.

Amongst this economic underdevelopment and this visibly disturbing imagery however, there exists an elegant and beautiful underbelly, a sincere religious and moral development, a proud political democracy and a vivid and vibrant cultural development. As with any great beauty – the beauty of Senegal lies somewhat concealed, but when found – glorious.

Up ahead the train tracks were broken and the train came to a stop somewhere near the border. Time passed slowly and constantly so I walked across to a nearby village. A few aged men dressed in the traditional flowing robes, dirtied from the dust and faded from the years of wear, sat smoking, staring. A man whistled quietly to himself, engaging occasionally in amiable interactions and then retreating into his world where only the melodic sound of his whistle was important.

Music is everywhere: from the radios, taxis and street corners, to the modest homes and rural villages – the thick African atmosphere of tradition, and pride in culture is inherent – all in the image of the region.

The crying, guttural and soaring voices of the Senegalese stars Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo, Omar Pene, reverberate across the impenetrable heat and harsh landscape, whilst the discordant circular rhythms reflect the raw and vivid expressions of the pain, tragedies and triumphs. Powerful drum beats encapsulate the strength and desire of the region and the delicate and intricate kora (traditional harp like instrument) echoes the breathtaking tradition and wonderful cultural beauty of this country – Senegal.

For many hours and more miles we may have travelled through the scorched anguish of the blue skies, the repressive prevalence of the desert sands, amongst the grubby sweat of excessive temperatures and the painfully meditative chatter of the train – through regions of neither a sign of life nor a sign that life could exist, until unexpectedly a sand coloured kingly palace of rough and intricate Sudanese design rose out of the desert sands, like a baobab that had been growing there for thousands of years.

Where the baobab had survived the draught, this building had survived the colonialism, communism and dictatorship that had paraded for many years before it. The incredible colour of culture and tradition has never faded and the people are still strong and hopeful. Life may be difficult, the region may be poor, but they are still full of cheer and pride – there is music and culture. This journey is part of Dancing with the Diaspora – an afribeat.com initiative – facilitating cultural exchange across Africa. With the greatest thanks to South African Airways.

Our next column gets close and personal to Youssou N’Dour, Senegal’s most famous man, but a rather controversial one at that.

Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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