MASA is back

August 2007 -

MASA, the Marché des Arts du Spectacle Africain in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, has provided Africa with a showcase for its performing arts and a forum for continental unity since 1993. Visitors to that first event could attend performances by the National Ballet of Tunisia, theatre companies from Senegal, Morocco and Cameroon and African music stars Baaba Maal (Senegal), Meiwai (Côte d'Ivoire) and Koffi Olomide (Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire).


MASA is all about theatre, music and dance. Held once every two years, it grew steadily throughout the 1990s, with 32 performances from 14 countries in 1993 rising to 52 groups from 23 countries six years later. The festival survived the Christmas 1999 coup d’état in Abidjan, returning stronger than ever in 2002. From this point efforts began to add a cultural framework to the event, with workshops being organised on such topics as how to encourage co-operation between African festivals, how to tackle cultural education and how to promote regional integration.

But less than six months later, Côte d'Ivoire was split in two by a military uprising and a brief civil war. MASA did go ahead in 2003, although that year's theme – national reconciliation – was chosen more in hope than expectation. Now that a real peace process is under way, however, MASA has been reborn. The theme for 2007: peace in Côte d'Ivoire.

The line up of performers is impressive in its diversity. From Angola to Egypt, Mozambique to Senegal, theatre groups, choreographers and musicians have converged on the Ivorian capital to celebrate their host nation's new-found unity. To emphasise that, the show is going on the road for the first time. Performances are being held in five cities, including the former rebel stronghold of Bouaké, war-ravaged Man and even remote Korhogo, where no self-respecting 'Abidjanais' would normally show his face.