It seems only fair that for all the cool events we miss by just weeks, that we’d have the good fortune to be in Senegal for the third World Festival for Black Arts. Amazingly, almost all of the hundreds of events are absolutely free.
The world-famous kora player, Toumani Diabeté, was the first performer at the opening ceremony. Somehow the majesty of an instrument normally best enjoyed in a small and intimate room was not lost as he played standing alone in the middle of the 60,000-seat stadium. Next up an impressive dance/theater performance telling the story of the African diaspora followed by speeches from the presidents of Mali, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal and Guinea Bissau and finally… Wyclef Jean?? Wyclef started his speech by complaining about Haiti not letting him run for president (“I came to Haiti and they sent me home before I was even off the plane”). Although considering he doesn’t speak French, maybe all they told him was that he needed a visa first. Next, he congratulated himself on being educated (“I can read. I can write”), encouraged people to do hip-hop because they love it and not “for the bling and hot chicks” and ended with the embarrassing, “If you want to see Haiti, then just look at me. I am beautiful. I am strong. I am...” Are all Haitians self-congratulatory? I think not.
My favorite part about the evening, though, was the fake camera crew wandering through the aisles all night with their cardboard camcorders, wooden microphones and homemade t-shirts. Je l'aime.
The parade of Burkina Faso marionettes never materialized (or we were in the wrong place at the wrong time – turns out the English schedule differs from the French on some important details). Archie Shepp’s gravelly voice enthralled us for an evening under the majestic African Renaissance statue (apparently they’ll be spending another $7 million to lengthen the woman’s skirt at some point although arguably the money would be better spent covering her side-boob). Massimo thought it looked like something out of fascist Italy. You be the judge...