Festival sur le Niger in Mali: a true folk festival

February 2009 -

The Festival sur le Niger is extremely popular in Mali's former capital Segou. Unlike the internationally famous photo biennial in Bamako, which many Malians consider to be an event for the elite, this is a true folk festival. The important concerts are held in the evening on a floating stage on the Niger, Mali's life line. During the day musical and dance performances are given on the banks of the river and on various city squares, and concerts are also held throughout the city in the evening.

The concerts by Super Biton and Bassekou Kouyate are exceptional and enthusiastically greeted by the audience. The thousands of visitors, including a few tourists, had already been patient for an hour and a half. The culture of politeness that characterises daily life in Mali was also strongly determinant for the opening ceremony, which included a festival hymn. In addition to the many Malians involved, thanks was also voiced for the many contributors from the United States, France and the Netherlands, followed by polite applause from the audience.

The population of Segou thankfully benefits from the festival. That was the emphatic intention of the organisers, who also hope to stimulate tourism. That objective was not completely achieved this year due to the financial crisis that affected the number of tourists that came to Mali. In addition to the economic importance of the festival, musical exchange plays an important part. Concerts were given by groups from Portugal and Mexico, for example. At the initiative of Mundial Productions, the Dutch jazz singer Izaline Callister went to Segou to perform with Oumou Sangare and Toumani Diabate. The festival included not only musical and theatrical productions but also expositions and debates on globalisation and eco-tourism.

The unperceivable richness of Mali's musical culture, however, sets the theme as the festival's most important international calling card. The recent worldwide breakthrough by Amadou & Mariam adds another pearl to Mali's already-impressive string of pop stars. The title of their latest CD could have been the festival's motto: Welcome to Mali.

The Festival sur le Niger is supported by among others the DOEN Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund.