Monuments

Well, it takes all kinds at this Third Global Festival of the Black Arts. Although the more apt name would be the Umpteenth Festival to increase the Profile and Glory of the President of this nominal Republic and his Family. Price tag apparently some €50m.

So here I was, gazing up at this:

Playing under the giant. Pic taken of Etran Finatawa, Tuesday December 14

(remember this)

and…waiting for the Kora Jazz Trio, whose glorious output will certainly outlast anything Senegal’s current crop of megalomaniac leaders throw at the good folks of this country. And mind you, now that the North Korean pomposity known as the Monument for the African Renaissance is there, you might as well enjoy it. It is festively lighted up in the evening, you can walk up its stairs and enjoy and absolutely stunning view of the Great Fantastic City of Dakar.

I can (almost) see my house from here. Lights in the middle: the airport

When I walked down the stairs, I heard the gravel voice and rough-around-the edges saxophone of Archie Shepp. One of the greats from the 20th Century’s most important contribution to music: jazz.

He was, in spite of his advanced age, in good form on that chilly, unprotected windy Monumental hillside. But many visitors were neither aware nor cared much about the man, his music. Case in point: the brief but charming development of a Chinese-Senegalese friendship, built around what appears to be a Monumental obsession of people all around the world: taking pictures of themselves and each other. Maybe God knows why. Or president Wade. He knows everything.

Mr Shepp is playing. A standard, a city blues or a nice bit of the real classic stuff: melody – sax – piano – bass – drums. All are excellent. Oblivious about all this, a few Chinese workers, probably plucked straight from China’s vast rural labour reserves, traipse around the premises, shooting films and taking pictures. Two rather large and very well constructed Senegalese ladies enter the scene, dressed, as always, to the nines. They start taking pictures of themselves and each other as well and very soon there is a whole series of musical chairs going on right in front of me: Chinese and Senegalese pose in all possible combinations and take pictures of each other. Then the China guys are getting a little too friendly and the two dames depart with their dignity fully intact. Meanwhile, Mr Shepp plays.

And it is somewhat disorienting to hear him rail against injustices of the past, when most of the United States was an apartheid state, and then cry “Revolution” – under a Monument whose only raison d’être, as every Senegalese will tell you, is the glorification of the ruling family. This is how one commenter put it the next day: whenever there is a problem in this country, no money, no food, no transport, all that Wade does is tell the Senegalese to go and dance!

Down the stairs and dance!

Well put. But dance we did, in the end, under the Monument. Thanks to another giant with a career spanning more than half a century. Manu Dibango guided his 13 piece band through the motions, greatly helped along by a characteristically boisterous Cameroonian delegation, how did they find out that Manu would show up here? He was nowhere on the programme…

‘Ah you’re all working tomorrow, right? OK, we’ll keep it brief…’ He did, sort of. As I left well after midnight, he had just announced the last piece, having taken us on a ride through jazz, makossa, latin, salsa, afrobeat, funk and whatever else in a great Pan-Africa, Pan-World, Pan-Whatever, planetary fashion. Maybe, if he manages to get some Chinese sounds woven into the mix, these guys will for a minute stop taking pictures…

PS: the Kora Jazz Trio did not play that night. Maybe another time…

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