Sayon Camara, Conakry Guinea|Guinèe.
Well, well, well. When I start writing this page, I have already spent 5 weeks in Conakry, and still it seems it does not want to let me go. But I did not have a computer, waited for a new one coming from London (Chris, who works for the UN here was so nice), remember burnt the mother board in Labe, Fouta Djallon. The new one is a Lenovo, runs on Vista, doesn't have enough RAM, the built in Webcam doesn't work most of the time, but screen resolution is great.
So what has happened? I come here via Boke and Boffa, settle in Conakry, Mission Catholique on 22nd Oct. 2007. And all the frieds are still there. Just Bogar, who served us all the beers last year has just passed away this week. This week!
And Conakry has changed. "Pluralisme, Politique, Democratie et Bonne Gouvernance!" says one banner, in central Conakry's government district. The difference here is so visible since December last year. Since the Jan/Feb general strikes which cost so many lives, there is a new mood now, new confidence, even activity, "peoples' brains have changed," Simon says to me. 5 and more storeys buidings are going up anywhere along the main roads. New computer shops. Chinese, Korean entrepreneurs. Conakry, maybe not a boom town yet, but the money is coming out from the hiding and is being put to work. The Euro/Guinean Franc exchange rate has had a wild ride throughout the year, came down from 9000 December a year ago to a low of 3000 to go back up to 6000 right now, which means Guinean Francs are more expensive now then a year ago. All a sign confidence.
Most of the friends frome the Sanke Ballet are still here. The drummers, dancers, griots, some however have left here as well, joined othergroups, became pregnant, or just left. I a very happy to be back.
Again Lancinet (or Lansine how I spellt him last year) takes me to Doundounbas where he plays with his group of drummers (last years Doundounbas and the Sanke Ballet).
I meet as well Chris Kyriakides, who works for the UN here, an election IT specialist, who made a name for himself in the field organising this years elections in DR Kongo, a country much bigger the Guinea. Chris found me on the internet, called me up when I was in Nouakchott, my first tête â tête with someone who contacted me.
And Chris turns out to be sent from heaven re my current computer situation.
With a no problem, no problem attitude he would buy me a new computer within 3 weeks, while on a trip to London, and help me set it up. With the old Asus, there is not anything left to do, with a black hole burnt in its mother board. I'll be more careful in the futrure plugging expensive equipment into the 12Vs.
So it is Chris and Lancinet and Fanta his wife, and friends of Lancinet, Bofe, Lansana, the same lot from last year, we go and see/play doundounbas. I am alowed to strike the bass djembe, and my hands burn the following day, my fingers seem inflated, but I felt the rhythm, the beat. They even pay me my share of salary, less then a Euro.
And we see local bands all over Conakry playing in local bars, that often do not have more then one light bulb. On one occasion we meet Yeli Mama Aista. Yeli indicates some kind of griote origine, or just artist. And Mama Aista sings for Sayon Camara (Frank Bessem), one of Guinea's top selling female singers, who issued her 3rd album this year.
So soon we are to travel to Kamsar, and Boffa, to see Sayon Camara her husband Cissoko and Mama Cissoko and Mama Aista.
Cissoko now definetly indicates a griot family, and this is Guinea, he would explain me later, all the artists are from the same families, some are very old griot families like Diabate, Cissoko, Conde, Kouyate, others have entered the business, like Keita, Bangoura, Camara. But actually some Cameras are of griot origine. This has been very important until quite recently as only the griots had the right to sing, dance, drum, in a strict hierarchical order, some you would not be alowed to look in their eyes, see them dance/drum. And "In Guinea you don't joke with the fetichists (voodooists). You wouldn't take these things lightly, it might cost your life".
But grasping the full concept for a white European is not easy.
Already in 2002 Sayon Camara was artiste de la paix by UNESCO. This year she would win the Djembe d'Or, best album of the year, most albums sold in Guinea. Sayon is a heavy weight in the countries music scene, also loved and iconised in Mali, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal, I should discover. And personally, I should also find out soon, she remained a very normal, warm, welcoming mother. On stage she is pure power, very professional and funny.
Unbelievable who I have stumbled upon.
On our way back from Kamsar we have a look at Koba beach which is not far north from Conakry. My voice I have lost late last night, already. Beers were warm. But I had caught a cold before that. I am sick. Koba is all Palmtrees, Baobabs and rice fields. Far away from the main road. Pirogues and a glimmering misty sun over the ocean. The tide is low, the sea too far out to be seen.
I am tired. The fishing village first seems laid back, Fanta cooks food but, but fishermen and their women argue till late, really till it starts rainig, my first rain in over a week. Before it always rained after sunset. I wake up in the morning. Still no voice. I am glad I am alive.
Ballet Sanke on island of Kassa.
Sometime - week 3 in Conakry, when I wait for Chris to return from London, when I read books, "The Eye of the Leopard", Henning Mankell, is straight on African reality. "City of Joy" Dominique Lapierre (wiki), I always new India would be a facinating place, there is life after Africa.
Somwhere - there is this street cafe, a low hanging roof of a plastic tarp. The coffee comes from bolted together Italian espresso machines, blackened because of the charcoal they use, bolted together because the main thread is worn and weak and the machines threatened to explode. Two bolts on each side and two iron plates top and botton, it will serve good coffee for many years to come. Pearls of sweat are all over my face. 3 in the afternoon. The coffee is of quality. There's countless Ronaldinho posters on the walls or plastic that separates us from the food stall next door. Les Espoir de Coronthie (myspace) play on the TV. Band members live just a stone throw away. The Espoirs have made it just like Ronaldinho.
Conakry has long taken me firmly in its grip. Seems this year it'll refuse to let me go. Well I am still waiting for my Computer. But also the drummers, dancers, griots.
Lancinet's group Ballet Sanke perform on the island of Kassa just off the Conakry coast. The island where the grande maÎtrise Jeanne Macauly, directrice of the Sanke Ballet (last year's story) decided to become resident and build a house. The island where Yelika (or Ilira how I spelt her last year, because this is how everyone calls her), the main danceuse lives with her husband Serge, French, who owns the Hôtel Guemba there. Yelika did put on a bit of weight since last year, she was skinny then, "beacause she eats well with me" Serge, I thought she was pregnant, "I hope to be pregnant" Yelika. The dream of many, marry, get pregnant, gain weight, a curvaceous body as a sign of wealth.
The dancing though does not suffer and will not. Any size can dance. Africa has no norms. What a performance. And the group loves me, I am so close to them. Taking pictures has never been more pleasure.
The boys next to me in the cafe talk Ronaldinho, a symbol of hope. How much does it cost to run a ballet of 20 to 30, here? 150 Euros a month here in Guinea, 1000 would do a far better job. They are not being payed to come rehearsing everyday. And they danse for peanuts when they shoot a clip with well established artists. It is hope that keeps them coming. Also fun. But pay a bit of money everyday may motivate and professionalise at the same time. Repair the instruments. Thrive for excellence. Find a sponsor. Touring the group in Europe would be more like 1000 a day. ... Am I seeking ways to extend my stay here? For a start this is not my Ballet.
I pay my coffee, brush the thought away, go back read "City of Joy".
Sunday if all goes well, Chris will be back from London with my computer. Then a week or two and I should be on my way and all that remains is memories.
Is that all there is?
We got here by pirogue and soon we somehow get our hands on a 20 litre jerrycan of white palm wine. We all drink from the same mug, or bottle. Then and after the performance we eat rice and fish with our fingers, out of the same one bowl. One bowl for 5 to 7. All is shared. It never tasted better.
The room Serge has given to me has long been occupied when I return from a bar in the nearby village with a few others at 2 in the morning. Taken over by 7 dancers and drummers, boys and girls, 3 in the bed 4 on the floor. We, the rest sleep outside, on the the couches, the tables or just on the concrete of the peer. I am glad I brought a blanket. Still I'll should suffer from a cold when travelling to Kamsar this weekend.
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I hope to see you in Guinea one day again.