Festival Sur Le Niger 2010

The timing for our journey to Segou aligned the commemoration of the twinning of Richmond and Segou with the Festival Sur Le Niger (Festival on the Niger). Segou is built upon the banks of the Niger River. Richmond is built upon the banks of the James River. Richmond hosts the Richmond Folk Festival every October (since 2005) and Segou hosts its music festival every February (since 2004). Both festivals emphasize the traditional music of their regions, but incorporate how that music has evolved throughout their histories and influences from around the world. Segou's festival is more Africa focused. Richmond's festival pulls from cultures around the world. This would be a reflection of the many different peoples that now reside in Richmond, in the USA. 

This brings me to the person with whom Allan also spent a great deal of time during this trip, Mamou Daffe, owner/operator of the lovely Motel Savane, founding director of the Festival, head of CPEL - Segou's Center for the Promotion of the Local Economy - and quite frankly the third leg of the stool of administrative and economic initiative in Segou. I love this photo of him because he looks like a scorcerer doing his thing - and the festival is quite a thing to be doing. 

Festival Sur Le Niger 2010 opened on the 3rd of February and closed on the 7th, Wednesday through Sunday. It was spectacular. The photo above gives you some idea of being at a concert where the stage is actually sitting on the river as the sun sets. That was when it was most beautiful.

Every afternoon there were performances on two stages on the festival grounds, at night the main concert featured at least 3 big acts and then the after-hours performances began at nearby clubs. With the artisans workshops and vendor stalls running from 9am to 8pm, the festival was essentially open from 9am to 5am. You just had to pick what kind of life you wanted to lead during these five amazing days. I will not pretend to be a music critic, nor did I want to be; for me all of the music was wonderful - it was new to me, the sounds were inextricable to the sights.

Who performed? Sandia  and Segou Bara, Lazaliz Bamako, Pawari, Neba Solo, Habib Koite, Kasse Mady Diabate, Bako Dagnon, Sekouba Bambino, Djeneba Traore, Celso Duarte (Mexico), Batoma Kouyate, Tinariwen, Assan Kida, Baba Salah, Baba Maal (Senegal), amkoullel, King Massasy, Dady Dasty, Koko Dembele, Maskad, Labouzou, Bilan (Portugal), Mamou Sidibe, Mike Del Ferro (Netherlands), Nahawa Doumbia, Atongo Zimba (Ghana), Salif Keita, Grand Cru (Netherlands), Samba Diallo, Nafi Diabate, Abdoulay Diabate ... and every night at local clubs there were more bands playing - amazing scene.

A little background....
When Richmond and Segou agreed to become twinned or sister cities (jumelage --pronounced joo-meh-laj-- in french), the Festival Sur Le Niger committee decided to name Richmond as this year's guest city. As the central cultural activity of the year for this riverside city, the people and its leadership takes particular pride in honoring its guests at this event. We were treated beautifully from start to finish.

During the 13 Oct. 2009 signing ceremony in Richmond, Segou's mayor Ousmane Simaga delivered a formal invitation to Richmond's mayor's office, city council and Sister City Commission, specifically: Mayor Dwight Jones, 1st district councilman Bruce W. Tyler (also council representative to the Sister City Commission), Kathy Graziano, 4th district councilwoman (and president of Richmond City Council), and My Lan Tran, president of the Richmond Sister City Commission (and director of the Minority Business Development) to be his guests at the festival. Unfortunately none of these city representatives was able to accept the invitation.

It fell, therefore, to Sister City Commission member and Virginia Friends of Mali executive committee member, Allan Levenberg, to represent the city of Richmond at the festival, in all meetings with Segou city, civil and private structures, and ultimately in a second sister city signing ceremony on Friday evening, 5 Feb. at a reception in the courtyard of the Savane Hotel. Allan is a founding member of the Virginia Friends of Mali (VFOM) and a long-time Richmond-based banjo-player with a particular interest in citizen-diplomacy and bringing the traditional music of Mali and the traditional music of Virginia together. Allan and the VFOM have worked diligently since 2005 to twin the two cities. This visit is his third to Mali. As part of the ceremonies, Allan and I were given bronze sculptures by Mayor Simaga.

Virginia Friends of Mali (VFOM) members, in essence, were the make-up of the full delegation, with Richmond-based representatives including me, Ana Edwards / president of Virginia Friends of Mali, Dr. R. E. Poulton / VFOM vice president and Norman Levenberg / Allan's brother. Also in the delegation Dr. Michelle Elcoat-Poulton / former director of Save the Children in Mali, and Kalifa A. Toure, VFOM representative in Bamako. We are planning to facilitate annual visits to the Festival Sur Le Niger, so if you are interested, please contact us at virginiafriendsofmali@gmail.com. For more information on VFOM, visit www.vafriendsofmali.org. To keep up with festival planning each year, visit www.festivalsegou.org/new.