Monday, February 20, 2012

Le Festival sur le Niger

 The main stage sur le Niger
Confession - this photo was taken at the festival last year and I pulled it off of Google Images. Same look this year.

The biggest music festival of the year in Mali wrapped up yesterday in our very own regional capital, Segou. We spent 4 nights in a row listening to musicans on the banks of the Niger River and catching up with friends who came to town for the show. This year has been a particularly tough year for tourism in Mali, so it was fun to see Segou come alive with people, food stands, outdoor patios, dancing, and a pop up market. The festival draws primarily a Malian crowd and pockets of toubab festival junkie tourists. Unbeatable people watching.

Before coming to Mali people would always tell us that Malian music is world renowned. While I knew next to nothing about Malian music, the festival was a way for us to see all of the big names at once. Our personal best in show award goes to:

Kar Kar
Baba Sissoko
Pape Diouf (of Senegal)
Habib Koite
Sauti Soul (of Kenya)
Nafi Diabate
Cheik Tidiane Seck
Salif Keita

I am sure you can find some of these musicans on You Tube...if we tried to find videos for you the internet files would still be loading by the time the festival gets underway in 2013. For more info -

Naturally at a music festival in West Africa, we ran into a St. Olaf connection. Prior to coming to Mali, we learned about Cherif Keita, a professor from Carleton College who brings students here on a study abroad trimester every other year. Cherif's daughter also happens to work in Admissions at St. Olaf. At a late night performace we ran into Cherif's brother-in-law Oumar who runs a hotel in Segou. Oumar invited us to lunch the next day to meet Cherif, a wealth of knowledge on Mande history and culture and a friendly face who also allowed us to reminice about Northfield. Small world. Cherif has recently published an English version of his book on childhood friend Salif Keita (Outcast to Ambassador: The Musical Odyssey of Salif Keita). Salif Keita is THE most accomplished living musican in Mali and he brought down the house at the festival on Saturday night.

Thanks to our gracious host in Segou, we washed our clothes in a washing maching for the first time in over a year. What a treat. No need for a dryer though, clothes dry in no time when it is 100 degrees outside. I guess "cold season" is over.


  1. Sounds like fun! Glad to hear you were able to enjoy the festival and have the luxury of washing clothes in a washing machine. I can imagine how much you appreciated that! I will check out some of the Malian music on YouTube for sure. It never surprises me when people run into Olaf connections anywhere in the world - it has happened to me nearly every place I've visited - even hiking in the desert in Arizona!

    Hope everything is going well for you both!

  2. Hi! This is Francesco from Italy! It is a nice report. I was in Segou as well and I loved it. . Enjoy this too!

  3. Love to read about your adventures in Mali.
    My name is Pim. I'm the swedish cousin of Andrew Cunningham. My father was 'Grandmother' Nane's brother.
    Lots of good thoughts from me to you!

    1. Hello Pim, thank you for the note. I have heard my dad mention your name. I hope you are enjoying what you read here.

  4. Anna and George - how wonderful you were able to enjoy this fabulous experience before things turned upside-down! Neat to see the connection with Pim, e anche un osservatore italianio (ma che!). Nice segue to your river festival in your village last year (canoe races etc.)