ABC in Wolof

Did you ever wonder why it matters to learn things in your mother tongue? And more so, to be able to also write it correctly? Many countries with colonial past still struggle with this and such is also the case of Senegal. We had the pleasure of hosting Clayton Junior, a designer from Brazil, at Waaw Centre for Art and Design for an art residency program and his project in collaboration with a local school in Saint-Louis is one very refreshing example of how art can contribute to pedagogical challenges. Please click on this link to access a video and read on!

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Waaw

Yes, Waaw*. In other words: Waaw Centre for Art and Design, the Artists’ Residence located in Saint-Louis, Senegal. This is a very short post to share with you a recent video that will briefly present what Waaw does. If you are more of a reader, you can also log on to Waaw’s homepage. Enjoy!

*Waaw is Wolof and means ‘yes’

Sabaru Tey

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Baye Samba  © Jarmo Pikkujämsä

A few years back I prepared a mixed media exhibition called Sabaru Demb  – A Rhythmic Experience. It consisted of sounds and texts on Senegalese rhythms of sabar and stories related to them and their origins, and on their transmission. It proved to be a very popular show among visitors at the time and I remember having thought that I would like to show the work elsewhere too. Now is the time that I want to return to the material and add something new to it in the form of photography and perhaps video too. Sabar is, after all, also very visual!

The way sabar permeates the Senegalese society is wonderfully complex. If you have ever visited the country, you understand how sabar belongs to everybody and can be found, heard and participated in practically everywhere and any time of the day – or night. The beat that carves itself into your auditory memory – or dance moves – can be inspired by a number of things, for instance by the national fish and rice dish ceebu jën:

“You have to spice your Ceebu Jën. Otherwise, your husband will divorce you!”

Or rhythms can describe the area in which you live, such as the fertile land of Waalo in the north:

“Waalo-Waalo! Waalo-Waalo! The Sugar is in Waalo. The water is in Waalo. The rice is in Waalo. Waalo-Waalo! Go up to Dagana. Go up to Richard-Toll. Go up to Ndar-Geej. Waalo-Waalo! Say whatever you want. Do whatever you want. You don’t dislike. You don’t like. All happens! Come on Ndaanan, man or woman. Woman! Woman! Woman! A woman herself needs to have nice teeth. Nice teeth! Man! Man! A man himself needs to have money. Money! Money!”

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© Jarmo Pikkujämsä

The apprenticeship* in sabar is much about learning by mimicking and soon enough it becomes, as one artist in our residence recently put it, “a way of being.” Children are allowed and encouraged to take part in playing with drums already when the drums are still taller than them. When you are in a griot‘s house and dance sabar, you are being watched and encouraged to show that you have got the move, and there are no measures of what is right or what is wrong even if the choreography for each rhythm can be very complex. If you think of your steps too much, you’re already a little behind with the rhythm! When you dance sabar you “expand” and show your real height, and that’s what I really love to watch.

Sabar is also present in almost all the Senegalese films that I have seen. Watch Djibril Diop Mambety’s short La Petite Vendeuse du Soleil and you’ll see a bunch of girls with polio dance sabar on the streets of Dakar; or meet the enigmatic dancer in Hyènes by the same director; Joseph Gaï Ramaka’s adaptation of Bizet’s opera in Karmen Gëi has an opening scene in which two female protagonist challenge each other into a sabar duel; and similarly there is a fantastic opening scene of a wrestling match in Moussa Tourés’s La Pirogue. Every time I see sabar in any form, I take this indescribable pride in being connected to it. On a wider level, my interest in the sabar culture relates to my interest in movement. It may well be that I’ll have the chance to go back to Ethiopia later in the year. If this happens, I would really love to document the language of movement there too. But more of that later.

* A highly recommended book reference for anyone interested in the apprenticeship of sabar drumming: Patricia Tang’s Masters of the Sabar: Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal is based on her own experience among some notorious drummers. A good read.

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Aziz & Abdoukhadre © Jarmo Pikkujämsä

Cinema Vox

How many of you still go to the movies? Saint-Louis of Senegal has a fantastic annual documentary film festival with numerous screenings both indoors and in the open air, then there are some screenings also at the French Institute, but where can you actually go and watch films that are projected on a big screen? The answer is: nowhere.

There was a time when there were even two cinemas in town: Cinema Rex and Cinema Vox. The former has now entirely disappeared. Step in to the Cinema Vox building and you’ll be entering a world of old asbestos, falling coconut tree branches, wild cats, fruit bats, old records and an array of abandoned things and pieces of a world that once was. When you are inside, you can still sense that there once was a time regularly filled with that pleasant anticipation just before the film starts, unexpected power cuts, shushes to keep noisy children quiet, the sounds of swirling fans in the ceiling… and you wonder who came here? What kind of films did they see? How much did it cost? When did all this stop?

The tickets cost 100 cefa and 200 cefa, depending on the seating area. The Mamas watched Endo* films and when people asked: “What’s your plan for the evening?” they would answer: “Endo!” That was so particularly on Friday nights. There were also crime films. The screenings started at 9 pm and 11 pm. (A.D)

There were porn films, I saw many of them, and then there were those Indian films and Chinese shaolin films. That was karate! These three types of films were shown so that shaolin films and Indian films were shown in the daytime, and the porn films in the night. They were real porn films! The old would sit at the back and the young in front so that when the film was over, the old would walk out fast so that the young would not see them. Porn films attracted a lot of customers, usually the cinema would be full. (I.D)

Already before and ever since Youssou N’Dour bought this building, it has been sadly falling apart, as do so many buildings in Saint-Louis. At the time of writing this, I don’t even know whether this building still belongs to him or whether he has sold it, or simply abandoned the idea of whatever project he had in mind. The rumor has it, that if he ever were going to reopen the cinema in some form, the imam of the neighboring big mosque would not accept it because of the venue being too close to the mosque.

There are and there will always be rumors, but the truth is that this building can still be saved and put into good use. The telephone number of Mr. Youssou N’Dour, anyone?

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* Bollywood films