Posts Tagged ‘King Karaoke’

I ni sogoma,

As with most circumstances in life, I stumbled my way into a great trip this weekend to le Festival sur le Niger (the Festival on the Niger). And as with most circumstances in my life, this was of way higher quality than what I deserve. In case you aren’t familiar, the Niger river is the major river that flows through Mali, blessing the region with everything a massive river has to offer like hydroelectricity, a transportation highway, and all that delicious fish!

I got to tag along with my father up to Segou this weekend for the 11th annual Festival sur le Niger. The NGO he works with, Population Services International (PSI) is one of the sponsors for this festival so they had a whole team up there running a stand and offering services to festival-goers.

I’ve worked stands at festivals and events before and these guys step it up a notch. PSI is chiefly involved in malaria prevention in Mali, but they also do a great deal of work in reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality. At le Festival that means they’ve not only got the whole spread out on display with mosquito nets, Protector condoms, oral rehydration tablets, infant zinc regimens, and IUDs but they’ve also got teams throughout the festival grounds offering private consultations about any reproductive issue or product and even on-site HIV testing! Dad and I got ours done of course. Have you?

“Zach! Hurry up! You’re going to be late for your HIV test!” – Dad

A few other organizations do some of the same things like handing out condoms and performing skits about health issues. However I don’t think anyone else was offering on-site HIV-testing (with only a 15 minute wait for your results!) and IUD insertions. Boo-yah. To be fair Marie Stopes International (MSI) – another organization my father has spent some time with – did have a post-abortion care centre set up which is definitely solid. Unfortunately abortions are only legal in Mali if absolutely necessary to save the life of the mother (Oh, you mean it will just ruin your life, not end it? Yeah, no.) All the health information was really uplifting to see to be honest. I didn’t see any “safe partying” stands like the festivals I’ve worked and organized, but at least the community’s serious issues are being addressed. I wish more festivals in the United States were as open about promoting healthy lifestyles and options, especially those that don’t directly relate to partying. Burning Man is the only American festival I’ve experienced that even mentioned anything about safe sex and sexual rights, for example. Obviously Mali has a much more dire health situation overall than the United States but misinformation is still just as dangerous. And this illusion that the USA is immune from major epidemics and health issues is still a recent veil of luxury even though many take low disease rates within the States for granted. It’s important to remember that safety in general is an illusion; we’re all just one pandemic away from being thrown back into the dark ages.

Aside from the wealth of health information flying around in Segou, the air this weekend was filled with the best of sounds: music! Much like the others I’ve experienced, the music plays around the clock in Segou. Booming, dynamic drum beats from djembe circles to electronic programs move the crowds like the waves on the shoreline, boosted by vibrant, melodic French and Bambara vocals in the classic African style we all know and love (Lion King, anyone?) and . Bringing it all together, kora and guitar solos tear through the crowds and tie everyone’s ears in knots. All the music has a strong West African feel. This is 21st century African though. Mixed in are some solid electronic beats and keyboards, plus electric strings and amped-up drums. Though I think I heard a sax in there somewhere which is always appreciated. R&B, rap, Jazz and classic blues seem to be the styles of choice. As always, the later the night, the heavier the music. Hoo-rah. The highlight for me may have been when one band brought a whole crowd of rap artists up on stage who proceeded to bounce lines off of each other to the band’s various tunes. I’m quickly becoming a fan of Bambara rap. Bamba-Rap as I’m calling it.

Not to mention I know one of the evening’s two hosts! The same woman, Fifi, organized and hosted the karaoke competition I was featured on in the Fall. Small world haha.

The Festival sur le Niger is set up much like Baltimore’s Starscape festival which has now evolved into Moonrise (Starscape as it was just got too wild to handle I guess. Having been, I completely understand.). The stages are spread out across a beach-esque shoreline. Unlike Starscape that lasts just one night however, le Festival sur le Niger lasts about a week, ending on a Sunday. Perfect for a weekend trip. Plus in Segou the festival spills right onto the town streets outside the venue complete with more unofficial stages and vendor stands. That and the main stage here is actually on the water on a floating stage. The pit (the standing-room only area directly in front of the stage) actually leads right into the shallow banks of the grand Niger river, the cause for quite a refreshing front row experience. Note to first-timers: don’t bring your phone into the pit.

There is a noticeable security presence at the annual festival in Segou, moreso considering the escalation in northern violence since the new year, but it’s not too overwhelming. During the daylight hours the grounds are open to anyone interested in catching some tunes on a side stage or trying out some local cuisine (it’s all about the peanut sauce of course). It’s only in the evening that the exits become checkpoints.

The vendors/merchants are out in full force at the festival. Conflict in the north combined with a new government and now the ebola outbreak has put a dent in the number of European and otherwise international crowds. The same could be said with any Malian industry though. The war in the north alone has beaten down on Mali’s tourist industry pretty hard. So naturally, Europeans and obvious foreigners like myself are really hounded. You’d better put your bargaining face on or you’ll be broke by the time you walk through security. As a relatively young, caucasian, tattooed male I am quite the spectacle to the locals so of course a few people requested pictures with me and a few others professed their love. All in all just another day in the life. ūüėČ No, I’m definitely still not used to being the exotic one.

I’m glad I’ve been practicing my French (and Bambara!). I’m starting to be able to have basic (though admittedly rough) conversations with people on my own. Next year I’ll be more ready. The music at the Festival sur le Niger is a mix of French and Bambara with the occasional sprinkle of English. The most English I saw was on a “party tips” billboard aimed at international visitors. I appreciated that. It listed several important aspects and customs relating to Malian and Islamic culture. Apparently for example dresses traditionally mean you are married, greetings are quite important, and shorts are generally reserved for children… but no way was I wearing pants out there. Call me a child. Hey though, at least it’s the cold season.

All in all being with one of the sponsors got me the royal treatment this weekend in Segou. Seats in the good chairs and free entry are great, but we also got set up in one of the nicer hotels just a couple blocks from the venue. And not only is there electricity all night long if you want but wi-fi too! Africa is already so much different from when I first actually remember visiting in 2002, not to mention what my parents describe from the 80s! The whole set-up in Segou is quite impressive actually. Maybe next year I’ll see you there! The rooms are nice with working toilets and air conditioning and great local foods plentifully line the streets. Breakfast was even included with out hotel stay. Well, except for the omelet.

Onward and upward,
Z

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Bon après midi gens du monde!  Good afternoon people of the world!

Well, here it is.  Tonight marks another sunset on one more beautiful week in Bamako.  This week ended up being pretty productive, so as it comes to an end I have to say it went to good use.

First off, my stepmother-dearest,¬†Kari was here visiting this week. ¬†We had a good time checking out a few restaurants around town. ¬†A few Dad and I had been to, but many we hadn’t. ¬†So When Kari got here we showed her the spots we found and liked so far, but we were soon out of new places to go. ¬†We discovered a few spots that were honestly pretty impressive, like Savana, the big American/European spot complete with a thatched roof and zebra-skin chairs. ¬†It was a warm restaurant that looked like it could easily get pretty hot if the band got going. ¬†Apparently there is a Greek place out there somewhere with the highest reviews around. ¬†Even though I could easily go never smelling Ouzo again, I do love me some feta. ¬†I’ll let you know if it lives up to its name.

With Kari’s help we got a few trinkets for the house, like a new lamp for the den and some curtains. ¬†We also unpacked our books onto the bookshelf and fixed two of the air conditioners. ¬†Having all the books out, in the open, in one place makes it way easier to just read a little of each of the books I’m constantly reading, which is nice. ¬†Maybe one day I’ll finish one. ¬†No, just kidding. ¬†I actually finished Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is great. ¬†Though now I have a stronger distaste for Tom Sawyer and his unnecessary theatricality. ¬†The car was brought into the shop to have its A/C fixed on Saturday. ¬†The whole ordeal was originally expected to be a few hours, but it ended up taking seven or eight. ¬†The best part is that now that we got it back, the A/C works a little worse in the front, won’t turn off or turn down in the back, and the “Check Engine” light is on. … Three steps forward and two steps back, as they say. ¬†It’s a process. ¬†The A/C repairman also made a visit this week to fix the unit in Dad’s room. ¬†Once again it was my man in the bright blue suit, who determined the cause of the malfunction was simply that the unit had never been cleaned since he himself installed it almost five years ago. ¬†So he did his usual cleaning of the filters and syphoning of the tubes WITH HIS MOUTH, and whatever dead salamanders were clogging up the thing were taken care of real fast. ¬†If anyone deserves to be paid more, it’s that guy. ¬†Little by little this place is starting not to look or feel quite like Alcatraz anymore. ¬†It’s all very exciting.

This week I got some solid writing done. ¬†I put some good hours in on a story I’m working on, and a book of poetry I have been comprising for about five years now. ¬†Next week I think I’ll focus a little more on music and see if I can get some beats and tunes saved for later. ¬†So many projects, so little time! ¬†Who knows, maybe one day one of my many projects will be complete enough to show off. ¬†I could tell you what they were about now, but… I’d have to kill you. ¬†And I like y’all.

Oddly enough, I also happened to be a guest on a TV show this week! ¬†Once a year AfriCable, an international African television station hosts a karaoke competition called King Karaoke. ¬†They pick twenty contestants out of 150 or so original applicants to compete for and be crowned the karaoke king (or queen) of Africa! ¬†A producer from the show hangs out at the same hotel Dad and I have been going to Thursday nights for karaoke, and wanted me on after she heard these glorious pipes. ¬†What can I say. ¬†Technically contestants need two songs to compete, one of which needs to be a traditional Bambara song. ¬†Since I only just moved here and know neither French nor Bambara (yet), they asked if I would sing a song for their premier episode, which recorded on Thursday and aired on Sunday. ¬†I was originally asked to sing No Woman, No Cry, but a group of contestants decided on that as one of theirs so instead I went with my backup, Come Together. ¬†The best part of the whole experience came right after they called me on stage though. ¬†As I was waiting for they system to reboot so my song could start playing, the host asked me to sing something a cappella to kill time. ¬†I agreed and decided on a bit of Three Little Birds to stick with the original Bob Marley theme, which the crowd liked at least enough to join in and start clapping along. ¬†They only televised a short clip from Come Together, but at least those at the recording got a more of a show. ¬†That was a blast, haha. ¬†If I can find a clip online I’ll post it here for you all to enjoy.

On a more serious and useful note, this week I also finalized plans with Dad to volunteer some time at his office teaching his staff English. ¬†The next step is to meet with him and his assistant at the same time so they can begin making sure all the right channels are aware. ¬†Ideally though, pretty soon I should start holding classes at noon on Tuesdays (for beginners) and Thursdays (for intermediate/advanced). ¬†I’m very excited about the possibility. ¬†Hopefully I can help the overall team improve its English, and build a network of references in the meantime. ¬†Time will tell at this point. ¬†Fingers crossed.

I suppose that’s all for now folks. ¬†I’m off to go watch some AfriCable. ¬†If I fall asleep with it on, it’s like learning French through osmosis, right?

Onward and upward,

-Z