Posts Tagged ‘The Arts’

Fesman glimpses and it ain’t pretty

December 23, 2010

The Global Festival of the Black Arts (Fesman, in French) was originally planned for December 2009. It also costs something like 70 billion CFA Francs, according to the Gazette, a decent weekly here. That’s a cool €107 million. So here’s the question: what the @##!!$$ have the organisers been doing with all that time and all that money. Because Fesman is, in all honesty, a bloody shambles. Take a look at these:

1. In Walfadjri (one of Dakar’s better newspapers) today, the report of a bitter press conference by the architects who were supposed to have had their public conference about architecture and urban development in Africa, an incredibly important issue. They were, according to this report, chiefly talking among themselves and some of their exhibition material never left Customs. Fesman did not pony up the cash to have it released.

2. Upstairs from the restaurant area at the exhibition space CICES: two tables. Parked on top of them, still in their plastic packaging: eight brand new Apple G5 desktop computers. These things ain’t cheap. I bought mine four years ago for €1,700. Do the math, that’s easily 20 grand parked there, without supervision. Three days later I pass the same scene. They haven’t been used once. Ten days on, some have been switched on but left standing. In the “children’s corner…’ There’s only one word for that: waste.

3. Same week, the Gazette reports that the festival has splashed just shy of eleven million euros on roughly one hundred luxury vehicles, acquired through a non-existing company, Six Senegal. You get the picture, right?

a fleur de presse. The lady on the cover is the president's daughter and therefore a Fesman top boss.

4. I meet a local musician who tells me that the organisers had not even considered him for the music programme, even though he lives and works in Dakar. Then, he tells me he gets an SMS in which a show is announced – featuring himself and a few colleagues. An SMS…riiiiight.

So basically, I ask him: you don’t know exactly when you are supposed to play, you don’t know where you are going to play, there is no contract and you have no time to rehearse. ‘That’s right,’ he says, ‘and that’s why I will be demanding cash up front. Otherwise, we won’t go. Besides, I have my own show coming up soon. I’ll concentrate on that – and my new clip. Fesman is secondary.’

5. The mayor of Saint Louis claims that his city’s organising committees never received any info about the Global Festival of the Black Arts. Corroborated by a few members in the organising committees. Quote: ‘In the morning we don’t know who will show up in the evening.’ Now this actually makes perfect sense: Saint Louis is run by the Opposition and this is very strictly a Dakar Showcase for the Ruling Family and Its Party.

6. Those hundreds of pretty festival hostesses in a special festival dress! Well, they only perk up when strictly necessary. Most of the time they spend talking among themselves, because the guests have – once again – failed to show up. Tell you what: when you are supposed to smile at incoming celebrities and VIPs but you don’t get paid as promised  (according to a report in Le Populaire), you quietly decide that said celebrities and VIPs can go %%##@@ themselves. You just don’t tell anyone.

PS: just done a spot check. They still haven’t been paid. There is a word for that but we’re trying to run a decent blog here…

7. Taximen!! Too may cars chasing too little money. Fesman would be manna from heaven…er…forget it. Quote: ‘We get nothing out of this festival. I tell you: nothing!’ All guests are transported by one and the same company, Senecartours. Here’s how.

‘Fesman?’ asks a man. Just him and the driver on a 40-seater passenger bus. ‘We’re going to town.’ I was actually just leaving for lunch in my own neigbourhood restaurant – otherwise I would have had an entire bus to myself. That’s why taximen don’t even bother to show up at the festival hotels and the festival sites. All business gone… and if you want to know how one company got to hog all Fesman transport, a trip to the Ruling Party headquarters might be instructive…the Fesman main site sits right opposite…

8. I really could go on. A few well-connected individuals and by chance also some small businesses are doing OK out of the festival but for most it’s like the FIFA World Cup in 2010: hot air, empty promises and no cash.

Some final thoughts on Fesman – tomorrow.

Tread with care

February 10, 2010

He is an intellectual. Historian, thinker. And he would love to see his town re-established as a place that actually matters. It’s got it all: 350 years of history, a meeting place of Arabs, Africans and Europeans and an immensely rich cultural heritage as a result. But it’s not going anywhere. Saint Louis is…well, not exactly dying but it does not have the pulse, the drive, the vibrancy.  This place, the former capital of French West Africa today feels distinctly – provincial.

Not for want of trying. There’s plenty of culture. The arts, really. Literature, theatre, modern dance, music. This town has its own international jazz festival. There’s an artist association. Good work by a lot of good people.

So what’s holding it al back? Here, we need to tread carefully. Unlike those who invade this town every year in September for a massive religious event that sucks the life out of everything else. ‘It’s like being assaulted in your own home, it is terrible,’ says the intellectual. ‘The only thing you can really do is…leave town while they are there.’

“They” – are the religious brotherhoods. Fanatics? No, that does not exist here. Zealous? You bet. Zealous enough to constrict free thought and free speech. Note that I do not say: “ends free speech”. It does put limits, though. How?

Well that can be put in a very practical way. What does Saint Louis need to bounce back? It needs restoring. It needs cleaning up – the place, quite frankly, is a mess.

Done up only a few short years before: Point Sud, St Louis

‘What this city really needs is an economy,’ pursues the intellectual, ‘enough income that allows people to come to the festivals, the theatre and appreciate art.’

And indeed: art itself could be part of that economy. But for art to flourish – you need pretty much complete freedom of thought and expression. And for that to arrive, or to put it more bluntly: to restore the great tradition of Senegalese intellectual life…you need to roll back the zealots.

There, I have said it. I can – he cannot. At least not in public and not if you have responsibilities beyond your own little self. Address religion and the stranglehold it has on speech and thought – that is one thing. But criticize it at your peril. You don’t do ostracism as a hobby.

Pont Faidherbe, to be replaced and none too soon

This is what happens when you don’t paint a steel bridge for more than a decade. The same can be said for free speech and thought. It needs maintaining,in the subtlest and most comprehensive sort of ways. The French are paying for a new bridge, this one is beyond repair. But the cost of having your thinking space corroded is arguably much higher. Here’s hoping it does not get this far.