LOTTA travels

The Sound of the Drums – A Festival in Rural Mali

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Drumming is one of the most honorable professions in traditional African society. Therefore, drummers are usually placed in a prominent position within the circle and the dancers quite often face them while dancing. Drumming and dancing take on the form of an intricate interplay between the musicians, the dancers and the audience members – it’s fascinating to watch how people suddenly get up and feel inspired to join the dancing.

You could tell that the people participating in this festival were moved by the dancing and the drumming and took deep joy in the natural flow of things. Check out this clip I filmed during the festivities – it clearly illustrates a fundamental fact of African dancing: It is deeply connected to the earth and the environment, the feet are in firm contact with the soil while the arms move toward the earth.

The dancing is vigorous, just watching the dancers in this heat is exhausting. The movements are so very energetic and powerful, the interaction between drummers, dancers and the audience is fluid and intoxicating.

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The next one was a women only dance, celebrating their life and work – in this case especially their painted homes in the „Concours des maisons decoreés“. The ladies opened the ceremony by dancing in a line following the circle and picking up women of special standing from the audience. This part was very stately and lively at the same time.

Actually, the most common instrument in Africa is the human voice and it is especially poignant in the next act that was simply stunning and definitely the highlight of the festival. To the haunting melody of a female singer, huge puppets entered the circle.

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Each was carried and manipulated from below by a man with a harness and rods. The concept of the puppets is rather simple, but the execution and spirit of the performance swept everybody away. The art of puppets seems to be of ancient origin in Africa, but there is no way to tell since the tradition is mainly oral.

The festival was held next to the school building and all the school kids were in attendance. Before it started, we witnessed an odd kind of “practice”: It looked like the local scout troop was doing their parade drill – on the one hand I was pleased to see that they had a coed scout troop, on the other hand I was astonished by that weird and listless drill…

At 4 pm the afternoon sun was burning, and everybody sought the shade of the large mango trees and the canopies. I was impressed by the patience of the kids who kept relatively quiet throughout the lengthy ceremony, which was supposed to start at 1 pm. Later I was told that they had been told that the puppets would be coming back…

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