Youssou N'Dour and Peace in The Casamance


In these pages I have made mention of the former troubles in The Casamance, that again flared up in the early years of the 21st century, all but stopping tourists and visitors from entering the area and causing many of the Casacais to flee across the borders into neighbouring countries.

The impression, I have been given from friends both inside and outside the area, is that for some years past, many of the citizens of The Casamance had been in conflict with the government in Northern Sénégal, strongly feeling that promises given had been broken and that they were receiving a raw deal, especially concerning the low priced buying of their farming and fishing foodstuffs, which sell for very much higher prices when they reach Dakar. After agreements had been reached and the area quietened .. for a short time, a small rebel / bandit minority had taken advantage of the situation and created trouble for a few travellers, both local and foreign.

Despite the many rumours to the contrary .. spread for various reasons, usually of self interest .. which can still be heard in areas outside The Casamance .. I found no signs of any trouble.
The whole area is efficiently policed by gendarmes and army personnel in a friendly way and I was repeatedly assured by everyone that the troubles has ceased long before my visit and that they were waiting to welcome visitors back to a beautiful region of which they were rightly very proud.

At the height of previous troubles, when there seemed to be an impasse between the two sides,
Youssou N'Dour, West Africa's most famous and popular singer, was said to have had more effect on calming the area than the politicians could manage, after he released .. and dedicated to peace
in the area .. a Bob Dillan classic song of freedom from the 60's .. 'The Chimes of Freedom'.

Youssou N'Dour is long-time favourite of mine, whom I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed many times in stadiums full of brightly clothed Africans, swaying and singing in unison, usually at volumes which carry over the entire neighbourhood. It is always a magical atmosphere which, as he is now an international star, he can create all over the world .. and one that has to be experienced.

You should be hearing him singing in his native Wolof language.

Far between sundown's finish an' midnight's broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An' for each an' ev'ry underdog soldier in the night
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

In the city's melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden as the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin' rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an' forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin' constantly at the stake
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An' the poet and the painter far beyond his rightful time
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unravelled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an' blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanour outlaw, chained an' cheated by pursuit
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Even though a cloud's white curtain in a far-off corner flashed
An' the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An' for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an' we watched with one last look
Spellbound an' swallowed 'til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching, whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse
An' for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Click the links to view on YouTube:
Youssou N'Dour's live
video from Montreux
Bob Dylan's
version of the original song