Ouagadougou - Burkina Faso
Fespaco Festival of Arts, Crafts, Music and Culture - 2005

We walked through a maze of stalls, selling everything you could possibly imagine .. until we found Baba's display .. and spent some time catching up on each others' news before Alaghi and I went for a long walk around the hundreds of traders displaying their wares for the thousands of visitors.

Everything from clothes and materials, to cosmetics, jewellery, carvings, statues, leather, musical instruments and local African medical supplies .. which seemed to cover every ailment known to mankind .. and a few more besides. Friendly people from all over the continent .. although sadly no Gambians were trading there, every other country in West Africa appeared to be represented.


and drinks stalls were everywhere and as dusk fell, the smoke from the various kitchens mingled and turned into a kind of mist, which floated over the entire gathering. Everything became surreal in a cacophony of noise and mixed musical rhythms coming from the loudly amplified live groups on stage, competing with groups of drummers practising outside music stalls and the equally loud amplified music and voices coming from many of the stalls, all advertising different services and products.

Thousands of happy and brightly dressed people, laughing, shouting and celebrating, dancing to the rhythms and joining in with the singing .. the atmosphere was electric.

We walked around for hours, stopping for the occasional drink, snack, ice cream and .. wonder of wonders .. locally-grown, luscious strawberries, which I have never found in West Africa before. Chatting with stall holders from all over Africa, we found a few nice antique glass and stone trade beads amongst the mainly modern beads and pendants. Traditionally dressed Tuaregs selling large quantities of silver, beautifully decorated but mostly modern .. diaphanous material in lovely subtle colours from the ladies of Mauritania .. wooden masks, carvings and furniture, all with their distinctive regional styles .. every type of African goods, arts and crafts were on sale. Modern technology was also included with lottery tickets, phone lines and domestic services also on offer.

Whilst there were many people drinking beer in an enormous open sided beer tent .. and people were noisily enjoying themselves .. there seemed to be no trouble at all, with order being maintained by members of the police force in a calm and polite manner. Their control was not at first apparent until, whilst taking a photograph, I touched the single rope that was keeping the crowds back from the open air stage, where a succession of musicians were performing. An officer quickly asked me to move back away from the rope and only then did I notice that the crowds were acting in a totally different way to all other Africans I have seen at such concerts before. Nobody was touching the rope, nobody was pushing or shoving and everybody was having a good time, without the hassle which is normally associated with the unruly 'stampedes' seen at similar venues in West Africa.

Each of the various groups and musicians played for thirty minutes and then changed for others, all filling the night air with their entrancing rhythms, varying from traditional drumming to amplified electric instruments, even a jazz-playing Toubab, obviously well known locally from the tremendous reception he received from the audience. Most remarkable of all was a lady of advanced years, beating out an energetic rhythm on an upturned gourd with all the energy of a teenager !

The music continued into the night as, tired out, we left to find our hotel .. passing a man on tall stilts wearing a really ghoulish mask, alternatively teasing his audience into fits of giggles and then scaring them, making them run away screaming in mock terror.  Multiple music and advertising still blared out from the other stalls, business continued to be brisk and most everyone else seemed to be going to stay all night.

Some of the bead traders had promised to bring their 'special beads' for us to see on the following day, so after managing to get a late meal in the hotel, we went to bed and slept soundly .. our ears still ringing with the sounds and our heads full of the wonderful images we had seen .. looking forward to returning in the morning.