Monday, July 27, 2009

To the beat of the Djembe

The first thing that many people think of when they think of Africa is drumming and dancing. They think of tribal costumes, animalistic dancing and the beating of a djembe. My first musical experiences were nothing like this. I have had a lot of musical experiences in the churches here but this post is dedicated to the more unique outside of church music since I have another post coming up about religion. Like many of my experiences here so far, my first musical performances that I witnessed were ones that I had sought out and with little idea of what they would be like set out to discover.

Way back in May was my first musical experience outside of church which like I said was far from being traditional. Burkina mother’s day is a little bit later than Canadian mother’s day, and as I described early on in my blog, I went to church for a special mother’s day mass. The day afterwards I found out about a cultural evening being organized by the catholic youth of Fada to celebrate mother’s day. My host brother offered to accompany me so we headed out on his motorcycle. This cultural night was NOTHING like I was expecting. It was a mix of air bands, short plays, fashion shows, and sexy dances with a little bit of religious singing thrown in the mix. The kids had prepared lots of provocative dance routines and religious songs which were in some way supposed to celebrate their mothers. I was a bit lost I must say, but on the other hand I found it absolutely hilarious. There were 6 year old girls modeling traditional outfits and blowing kisses to the audience. There was an 8 year old couple doing a sexy air band to one of Burkina’s latest hits. And to top it all off, there was preaching and singing about Jesus. Me and Sostène laughed our heads off. The most hilarious part was that although this was supposed to be an event celebrating the children’s mothers I could see about 4 or 5 mothers in a crowd of over 200 people. What a night.

My second musical experience is tough competition with the first for being far from traditional. I had repeatedly seen posters around town about a music performance that was to be held at the Ciné Yendabili which is the outdoor cinema. Convinced this was something I had to see I invited my friend Mab to go check it out with me. We arrived at 8:15pm for the 8pm concert to find that nothing had started yet… Surprise surprise, I was starting to get used to living on ‘African time’. The concert finally started around 9pm and turned out to be a local fadalese rap group named Gulmu Revelation!! What an experience. Not only were most of the songs rapped in Gulmanchéma so I couldn’t understand anything, but also you could clearly tell that NONE of their songs were live. (There would be 2 people rapping in the song at times and only one guy would be on stage.) I guess you can only ask so much from a concert sponsored by the local instant coffee Chicorée. At least we got free samples :)

Gulmu Revelation in concert with the big Chicorée sign in the background

Three times lucky they say. My third musical experience was a winner, not that the others weren’t entertaining!! A couple of weeks ago I made the 10 hour trip to the other side of the country to Bobo Dioulasso for my EWB coach’s wedding. She and her long time boyfriend another EWB long term overseas volunteer had decided to get married before their return to Canada in July. The wedding was 2 days long. Day 1 was in a village called Kimidougou which was just a short distance outside of Bobo… well just a short distance if you’re not crammed into a broken down taxi that keeps stalling in the mud with 7 other people in fancy wedding clothing. The wedding ceremony was held in the local Catholic Church and the drumming and singing drew everyone nearby in to witness it. It was a beautiful ceremony with lots of singing and dancing. The after party in the village was even more lively.

The wedding attendees made a big dancing circle and people jumped in to dance in groups of 2. I bravely took my turn and all of the Burkinabès were so excited that I was taking part in the action. There was also little boys dancing in another circle and they were quite talented and great to watch.

dancing and music at village after party
Again at night back at the newlyweds host family we danced and sang the night away. Here we were also accompanied by the guitar playing groom and sang some good old Québecois songs… none of which I knew but luckily we had the lyrics!

The next day the wedding was at the Mayor’s and was much more official. The celebration afterwards was much more official as well. A red carpet and red carpet ropes led the newlyweds to their head table where champagne awaited them. Because this celebration was back in Bobo it was MUCH bigger. Truly everyone in the community had heard about it and no invitation was needed to bring them out to share in the festivities. There were even some women who apparently go to all weddings and sing songs about the bride and groom’s family and then ask for money. I’m not sure what they could have known about the bridal couple, but they came and sang and begged just the same. We indulged in the traditional wedding snack of popcorn, deep fried shrimp paste and little brown crunchy sweet things… interesting mix. Then we had riz gras and ratatouille. After the eating was done the dancing and drumming began again. More of the nasaras joined in on the dancing this time, and we all learned a couple of new moves. The energy was amazing, and the instruments and music as well.

Musicians at the wedding afterparty

My most recent musical experience came while I was staying in Bogandé last week. The weekend prior had been the initiation of the new chief but unfortunately I had missed it because of the wedding. The week that I was there though they celebrated the 50th anniversary of an ancient chief’s death. This chief was the father of the newly initiated chief. The start of the celebration wasn’t the most exciting. They started off by reading the biography of the old chief and then the biography of the new chief. It was all in Gulmanchéma and was quite the long process… these are no young men we’re talking about. After that though things got more exciting. Drums and dancers came out to get things happening. The dancers this time were solely men which I hadn’t seen since I’ve been here. They moved so fast I could barely keep my eyes focused. It was quite the spectacle, and managed to keep away the rains that were brewing above. Apparently the village rain chief had been doing his work well.

Drummers at the 50th anniversary celebration

So after having tried ALL day to upload videos of these various events I will have to settle for pictures. They don’t really capture the experience as well, but you’ll just have to come check out my videos when I get back. My next music and dance experience is again going to be very non traditional and unique. My soccer team is organizing a night to go out in Fada and hit up the dance floor to celebrate our season. This is where my dancing will truly be put to the test with my 25 girl friends watching. Wish me luck :)


  1. Hey Anna, just sitting here bored at work and thought I'd see what you are up to. Looks like you are still having a great time. It's uber hot here but probably not like there. Can't wait to see all of your pics. Take care. Aaron

  2. I hope you really enjoyed this kind of event. I hope to see more post form you. Fab Defence