It took a phone call to convince me. When you actually live here, you have to get going early. On the phone, a journalist put me through to somebody else who said: have you only just woken up?
Yes, I woke up too late, as usual. Only two weeks to go until the MASA. The next day, I crossed the sticky town, which was going about its usual business. The lagoon boulevard was packed. It was nearly three p.m. I headed up the road that runs alongside the Saint-Paul’s cathedral, built some twenty years ago by a famous architect on the site of the old civil prison, opposite the Law Courts, near to the administrative tower blocks, on the edge of the Plateau, the business district where the ministries, the Presidential Palace, and Parliament are found, along with all the important places you have to get to very early if you want to be a part of life in the town, of life full stop.
The MASA headquarters are located here, not far from the Abidjan International Trade Centre (CCIA). You have to get up early to go there if you want to avoid the traffic jams, the bad tempers, to be sure to enroll and to get a pass. Yes, I hadn’t forgotten, the MASA is a closed market. I am not a buyer, or a seller. I am of no interest to anybody. I want to see, to see shows, to participate in the debates, to meet people, to discuss art and culture, or even the weather. A market, in my view, is that too: a place where you go to share words, passions, conversations and complaints, and joys too. But is the MASA an open market?
This town is unlike any other, I know. Perched on the edge of the Ebrié lagoon, it lives at the rhythm of contrasts between village traditions and the most extreme urbanity. Its tentacles spread as far as the eye can see over the hills, the valleys, the disappearing forest. I cannot remember the name of the road where I parked, opposite the MASA headquarters. It is one of the rare streets where the mango trees of my childhood still exist. Elsewhere, they have been mercilessly slaughtered.
It was three o’clock and, up in the giant trees, the bats dozed, upside down. From time to time, they attracted the attention of the passersby: they are not used to keeping quiet. Every night, they give a concert just when the silence descends, when the neighbourhood pulse slows down.
This district owes most of its activity to the heat of the sun, in which mingle the trepidations of the cars, the anger, the difficulties and joys of the thousands of workers who give the place a soul in the day and abandon it when the evening comes. They head off for the working-class neighbourhoods, the slums, or the five-star villas.
It was three o’clock when I crossed the threshold of the renovated ex-colonial house that harbors the MASA headquarters. A bat welcomed me in before the guardian asked where I was going and who I had come to see. It gently released a ball of excrement which hazard plopped down in my hair.
It is meant to bring good luck. Right!
At that time of day, work kicks off again on the Plateau. Everybody is preoccupied with their own business. The guardian stared at me through sleepy eyes. He hadn’t notice the tissue I used to remove the undesirable ball from my hair. It was now clean. I continued on my way, which was not yet to be the path of satisfaction: I missed everybody I was meant to meet. Nobody could tell me where to enroll. I retreated. Several days later, I came back. Christine, who has been in charge of a well-known troupe in the country for years, was with me. Is there a programme? Not yet. Don’t be in such a hurry! By Friday, the passes will be ready, the programme too. This time, there were at least some people about. Lady luck was smiling on us. On the ground floor of this colonial building, which doesn’t look like one any more, we bumped into the Director of the MASA. He wondered what we are doing in his building. He knew full well what we had come for. A thousand other visits to the MASA headquarters before and after 20 February would be necessary to get a pass.
I often ask myself. In what category do you class a writer? Not an artist, nor a journalist, a theatre director, a filmmaker, nor a musician. Inclassable. Immediately excluded from the MASA. I learnt so the very moment when, for days and days, I tried to track down my elusive pass. The shows began, the professional rendezvous too. How can you get to see a show at the Ivoire or the French Cultural Centre? You have to pay each entrance, of course! The cost of the ticket is an efficient means of sorting the rich from here and elsewhere, from the poor from here: wandering artists, poets, artists of all kinds, and lovers of the performing arts. How do you enter the gateways of the MASA village? The only remaining options were the corridors of the Hotel Ivoire. The only remaining options were the lobby of the French Cultural Centre, the fringe MASA, and the general celebration every evening which had very little to do with the official shows. For the poorest, of course, there was still the Sorbonne, one of the rare free places where the shows were (a)live, and held every week day between noon and three, opposite the gardens where, for several days, the so-called « the MASA village » resided. The Sorbonne has its rector, a famous man who was imprisoned in the Nineties for his frankness. The Sorbonne is the place of all knowledge, of all sufferings, of all religious obediences. I hope that those who gained access to the MASA village also stopped off at the Sorbonne, the free place, just opposite. The place where all hopes are permitted, where all angers flow, where all illusions are lost and found again.
On the third day, in the lobby of the Hotel Ivoire, I meet a top, world famous Ivoirian writer, who no longer knew which saint to turn to. He was sent from one desk to another without the slightest regard for his person. After an hour’s wait and vain seeking, he was told: come back tomorrow! And there were many of them, those from elsewhere and those from here, all categories together, who spent incalculable hours waiting on an unfindable pass. Meanwhile, the shows went on behind closed doors.
A journalist from the national television had the good idea of interviewing a few passersby in the streets of the city, on Thursday, 18 February.
Have you heard of the MASA? I hope the organizers heard the answers. Is it a market? A festival? Who is it put on for? Where is it held?
Let’s talk about the site. In this country, it is as if every important event absolutely has to be held in this hyper-luxurious Hotel the top dogs are so proud of. Every evening, the shows were put on in the main auditorium of the Palais du Congrès on the ground floor of the Hotel. A huge auditorium, given the number of spectators who turned up. The buyers preferred, sometimes, to go and discover the unselected shows. They went to share with the crowds who live in the working-class districts. That crowd is afraid of the air-conditioned freezing cold in which the professional rendezvous were held, in the day, when outside, it is, on average, 35º in the shade. They did not dare go to the Ivoire to take part in the debates. I wonder if the general public or the country’s artists knew that there were workshops and forums they could contribute to, where they could share their experiences with others from the South or North.
The shows attracted the attention of most of the journalists who came to cover the event. Everything was great, or more or less. How do you hold an opinion about it? I won’t even speak about the shows I saw. But a word must be said about several key moments that went unmentioned. There was the first forum, on 22 February, when the auditorium was full. We listened. The political and diplomatic personalities did the speaking: the Prime Minister, Minister of Culture, the Head of the European Commission’s Delegation in Côte d’Ivoire. The speeches were about « the economy and development of the performing arts in Africa ». Other forums with potentially interesting themes attracted less people. The one on education was dominated by Were-Were Liking’s intervention describing the experience of the Ki-Yi village. The one on women taught me that a frank dialogue between men and women about the arts is not yet possible. In the « dance and choreography » workshop I followed all week, essential things were said. We questioned the nature of African dance. If a new African dance exists today, we asked what dreams, ideas and practices underlie it. For five days, Zab Maboungou and Alphonse Tiérou gave the best of themselves. Their passion was shared by the choreographers and dancers present.
Friday 26, we spoke about globalization. I got the impression I had already heard all these speeches somewhere before. A Belgian journalist had started speaking to me the day before. He ended up getting me to speak, in the lobby. For me, the lobby is one of the places where people can meet. It was also there that a VIP from Guadeloupe said to me: « You should have been asked to take part in the debate on women ». I looked at him sceptically… He didn’t seem to understand me.
The MASA 99 was also the occasion to meet up for a drink or meal. There, tongues loosened, friendships were born or consolidated. It was possible to speak. Openly. At last. It was then that I rediscovered the sense of the market I believe in…
///Article N° : 5348