From one festival to the next

Impressions

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The notes and choices of a festival organizer from Marseilles, out and about at the Masa and the Fespaco.

February 99. As this isn’t Venice, you can’t say « I’m going to take the vaporetto », but it’s as good as. A lagoon, boats that ferry across it for three pennies (CFA), the shimmering water around you as you leave the shores, a light blessed by the gods. Lakes are said to be the diamonds in the engagement ring the sun offered the earth, who, in return, invented the wind. That was long, long before the first animal.
The lagoon is in Abidjan. The boats are made out of wood, made to function, with plank gunwales eroded by time, as thick « as that », and a good, hefty diesel, rocker arm and fan belts in the open. Well in the shade of the canopy, low in the water, the wind of the journey in your hair – we must be going at two knots, and believe me, two knots of wind whistling between your ears when it’s 35 degrees in the shade, gives a good feeling in your t-shirt – we are jam packed together on the benches, direction the shores of Blocoss. Twenty minutes in a taxi/traffic jam/pressure cooker are swapped for donkey’s years of serenity, before diving for the night into the concerts on offer at the MASA, and the ice cold of the congress centre that plays host to us, the the air-con thermostat traditionally stuck between « ice floe » and « broncho-pneumonia ». Anne-Marie N’Zié, Malika, Wendo Kolosoy, B’Net Houariyat warm up all that.
The MASA is not easy for anybody. This is clear in the large Palais des Congrès auditorium. Each and everyone – the organizers, artists, potential buyers, journalists, and other guests – has to take a step in the direction of the others, whilst avoiding, if possible, opportunism and connivance. A whole programme: Artists, who appear to have been asked to make an astounding performance, there where the variety of forms, the « healthiness » of the expression, and the artistic particularities ought to suffice to move the troop of amateurs that we are. Artists whose ardor comes up against universal pretension here, and the crushing architecture of a congress centre auditorium. Market Organizers who learn how to do things on the job, now that the ACCT has passed the relay to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire. Organizers who seem to hide their interrogations behind the proclamations of a faultless self-satisfaction, which the presenters « flog » to us, as if at a meat market. And us, who constantly seek the necessary filters for a vision that if not just, is at least adapted to what is on show.
If these few words seem negative, you have to tell yourself that all that is normal, that it’s the price to pay in an art market, and that all these little irritants that prickle our sensitive souls give us the immense privilege of discovering matter to awaken our senses, to spark our imaginations, of bumping into other mad folk, without having anything better to do than to live the shows, to moan about the imperfections of the organization, and not to lose the notes rapidly jotted down on little bits of paper that always get tucked away in incredible places.
Tuesday 23. There is an « Off ». To be precise, the « Market’s » fringe; there is the Festival, put on by the MASA, and a totally unrestricted « Off » which is born out of it, of course, and is one of its fortes. The « Off » represents the artists’ right to present whatever they want, provided that they come up with the means. For the spectator, it is the right to maybe discover the unhoped for pearl, provided that they manage to find a taxi driver who likes treasure trails, and provided they accept boredom, often, for a reward, at times. The MASA 99 « Off » is self-respecting: as impossible to find as the Avignon fringe festival before Alain Léonard and his accomplices invented the « Avignon Public Off », as uncomfortable, as tiring, but also as exciting in one or two moments of joy offered by a handful of illuminated, determined sorts, who believe in the Father Christmas who is going to discover them there… and they’re right to.
Wednesday 24. A bar, cold beer, fish soup. Noon, Place de la Poste, 200 metres from the MASA village. In front of the bar, the Band « Petit à Petit ». Here, we are no longer in the Market, no longer in the Festival, nor at the Off. We are in the ordinary street, thank you very much. Two men and a child. Instruments made out of plastic containers, hub-caps, bits of pipe, the mike a traffic cone. One of the men plays the electric guitar without an amp. It is not the sound that matters, just the look, in order that « it appears to be », but behind these plagiary instruments, they are really playing and singing, and the swing shines through, with a good dose of humor-derision, and the complete complicity of the street.
Friday 26. Zirignon Grobli, poet, painter, psychoanalyst, lover of good food and fine wines, our generous host for six days, deigns to honour the universe with several steps outside his garden, leaving his scrapers (he paints by scraping diverse matters), leaving his patients, leaving his books, and stopping grumbling, a little, to come with us to Marie Rose Guirot’s dance school, to watch « A Vendredi 20 Heures », a theatre text by Koulsy Lamko on life in the periphery neighbourhoods of Njamena, written on his return to Chad after several years in exile. The Ndok’Tel company created it, Alougbine Dine directed it, he who already presented « La Ligne », with his Atelier Nomade, and his itinerant approach. Thank You Mr Lamko for this text in touch with the reality of your country, for a story that is both sweet and sour at the same time. Only a small handful of us have made the trip here. The Chadian Minister of Culture is present, in shirt sleeves, and without a speech, the director is present too. With Zirignon, that already makes three personalities in a crowd of twenty-five souls, for a passionate show. The catch was good this evening at the « Off ».
Saturday 27. Air Afrique takes us to Ouagadougou where the FESPACO starts tonight. Resumé in the plane, after eight days of Masa. The things that I will have the pleasure of programming at the Au Sud du Sud Festival in Marseilles, and which I urge you, most subjectively of course, to go and see if they are advertised near you one day: Dibs (Cameroon), Daa-Zaa-To (Compagnie Löi-Nii, Guinea), La Ligne (Atelier Nomade, Benin), A vendredi 20 heures (Compagnie Ndok’Tel, Chad), Une Hyène à Jeun (Mali, France, Canada) for the theatre. Mophatong (Company Moving Into Dance, South Africa), Cleansing (Gaara, Kenya), Cie Tchetche et Cie J-Ban (Côte d’Ivoire), for contemporary dance. As for music, I have already cited my favorites above.
Sunday 28. Ouaga is changing fast. Modern buildings, street lights, traffic jams at the crossroads, problems finding a parking place, and the carcasses of vehicles abandoned along the « six metrès » (the untarred streets that cut across the main roads), there where a few years back, people went around on mopeds, where the night was only rarely dotted with light, the cars few and far between, and, apart from a handful of official buildings, the town was horizontal, without storeys, beneath its corrugated iron and thatched roofs. The only « dump » was called the « Car cemetery », and there was only one wreck, rotten down to the very last bolt. It would seem that the country’s economy is developing fast, so much the better, even if it generates several recycling problems.
Yesterday, the inauguration of the FESPACO at the 4 Août stadium. 30 000 people, maybe more. Alpha Blondy sends the crowd wild. A murmur of protest that ripples around the terraces when the presidential cortege arrives, reminding us that here, in the land of upright men, life does not always flow like a tranquil river either. A stir around the death of a journalist. Speeches, fireworks, concert, light show, gobo. The Ballet National du Burkina Faso performs an excerpt of its show which can be seen in its entirety a little later in a bar with a vocation as a Cultural Centre, set up by Irène Tassembédo, the director of the ballet. It is very new, too early to speak about the creation of the show. Rather, a collage of the country’s different artistic expressions. BOYABA, the only company present in this National Ballet, set up a long time ago, used to the stage, with a fine international career behind it, has leant half of its dancers and its lead musician to the National Ballet, and assures the « body », the key moment of the current show. To be followed. Bravo Irène Tassembédo for having recognized their talent, and thank you for welcoming them into this new adventure.
Monday, 1st March. Everybody’s settled in. « All that’s left » is to offer oneself ten to twelve hours of screenings a day, and three or four hours of press conferences, seminars and other forums. Impossible? Really, ok I’ll content myself with seeing the films. Too bad for the artists’ grand ideas and little confidences. When the fatigue gets too much, a pint of Yamakou (ginger water), it picks you up. In the evening, a bicycle-chicken roasted on the embers, a Brakina beer at the Damsy to let your ideas and sense settle. Tomorrow we start a-fresh at 8 o’clock.
One week and eighty short and feature films later, the senses deliciously exacerbated and the body exhausted, the names of Mohamed Chouick, Abderrahmane Sissako, Philippe Brouks, and a few other stick in your mind. Their films are called La Vie sur Terre, Sabriya, L’Arche du Désert, Woubi Chéri… The same message as earlier, if you come across any of them, go to see them! They talk about love, not just for the thrill. They talk about love, and all the rest comes after. A way of approaching difference, the life of others, of sensing how a society other than my society hangs together. A fine way of seeing unfamiliar cultures rise forth out of themselves, limpid, through stakes and events. Here we wed the sensitivity, finesse, of authors, of directors, of talented artists.
Tonight, the prizes are announced. The Etalon de Yennenga goes to Pièces d’identité. A golden subject, treated in a yuppie style. Pity, it’s not with this that the continent’s cinema will make its mark in the universe.
MASA for the stage, in Abidjan, FESPACO in Ouagadougou for the cinema, it’s over. But in other places, meetings are being organized, works put together. The stakes? To get them as well known as possible, as always, but here, and for all the African countries, with the heightened conscience that a network, programming circuits, need to be developed on the continent itself. In hope of a creativity freed from its allegiance to other continents.

///Article N° : 5371

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