Where am I in Africa? Guinea|Guinée
Conakry, capital of Guinea, the country that has had only two presidents since independence was declared on October 2, 1958. Wikepedia.
Dead-end street country I said earlier, but these days really Sierra Leone and even Liberia have become open to travelers.
I arrive afternoon the 4th of Dec after passing multiple police and customs checkpoints, avoid paying a dime again and again, I am not new to Africa anymore. From where Conakry starts, the first police post, it takes another 2 hours to arrive at city centre or some 40km. Half of Conakry then is confined to a narrow overcrowded peninsula. But traffic this afternoon is ok-ish, to avoid rush hours congestions go in in the afternoon, drive out in the morning, someone has told me.
Really I come to stay for a week then head north to Bissau and then do a bit the north of Guinea on my way back to Bamako. This is my plan. - What a nice place it was.
I am exhausted and park the Landy near commissariat central. 30 police all dressed in black combat gear, they do look frightening to me, but friendly they are, volunteer to gard it. This is Africa, you chat/joke/smile/exchange niceties/take time. With all the police around this must be safe to leave my Landy. I need to eat/drink/find a hotel/have a beer after 5 hours nonstop drive from Kindia.
5 minutes later in Patisserie Central just opposite I meet Dan and Liz, English, backpacking. And we become friends. Mission Catholique is where they're staying. I go with them. But I need a Charwarma first.
And as so often all will change. I will stay 3 weeks in Conakry. And it will be Dan and Liz joining me in the Landy going back to Bamako.
But slowly, still nothing indicates just that yet.
I like Conakry's Charwarmas at the Lebanese's.
I like the beer in a city, its bars (B52) and live music scene (Foutrget Magic).
I like the company of my new friends.
So the next morning Dan and Liz and I go on a tour together, visit the Faysal mosque and its first muezzin is happy to show us round. We're allowed to take pictures after talking to the muezzin's father, the Grand Imam of the Mosque Faysal. "I like you beard" tells me the Imam, "just like a good Muslim" I reply, we both laugh.
Ballet Sanké, Conakry.
On our way back to the mission catholique we cross Jardin du 2 Octobre, "a nice green park" Dan has said.
As we stroll along we hear drums. There's people playing the djembe/djembée and girls dancing under a large corrugated iron cupola. And in the back a rusty carrousel whose days seem long gone.
We decide to listen and watch.
I would come back nearly every other day for the next 3 weeks see them rehearsing. With time I would notice that once again I have been extremely lucky.
Lansine is 22, he is the chief of the rhythm group: "I wake up at night, often, and I have a new rhythm in my head," meaning he is constantly working on new arrangements for his group.
It is Lansine and Lansana I become friends with. We spend a lot of time together. They take me to Doundounbas (fiestas) in the afternoon and local bars in evenings.
Percussion and Dance.
They call Conakry the world capital of percussion and Guinea the land of percussion. Artistic groups, drummers, dancers exist in every village or quartier, every community and street and the selction process beginns just there.
Ballet Sanké drummers and dancers meet to repeat their arrangements for 3 hours daily 5 days a week. Just like artists do elsewhere.
Ballet Sanké is a dance company. The girls are so fit. Bofe as well. But that alone does not do them justice. They're not just acrobats that move to the rhythm, it is a play, a drama, with characters good and evil, witches and "strong men", envy, love, agony and joy. Body language and facial expressions are as important as exact timing of turns and steps and jumps.
For every scene or episode there is a proper choreography or dramaturgy in place.
After watching them rehearsing for a week, the boss Jeanne Macauley one day announces that a competition some 7 days ahead will be held in Conakry, a festival: The Concours National de la Percussion. Overwhelmed by joy and excitement the performers suddenly seem flooded with fresh energy and seriousness.
I am very happy to be part of all that.
Jeanne on the very first day has a go at me, because I have not asked for HER permission to take pictures. Well I have asked a half a dozen other dancers and drummers, like Lansine, when Jeanne has not even been there yet ... Anyway she has had to make the point here. SHE is the boss. And she has a very loud voice indeed. But as I speak French well enough and with wit I manage to take all the brutality out of her arguments. In the end she cannot but start laughing while still pretending to have a go at me, to the best of everyone's amusements. Already after lunch we have become friends.
And she is the boss, has founded and rebuilt Ballet Sanké.
Jeanne Macauley was une danseuse étoile, a prima ballerina, she already danced and sang abroad when she was a teen, "she has travelled the 6 continents" some guy discloses to me when she first has a go at me. Later she tells me "I have eaten with Bob Marley in Kingston, and Michael Jackson in NY. Marlon Brando invited us to his villa to perform, ... , food and drinks all day long".
Jeanne is the boss, shouts about when she feels like, not just at me. When Jeanne talks everyone shuts up. "Discipline" is her most used word. But every now and then even the youngest gets his chance/even is forced to speak up. A group dynamic like game, Ballet Sanké is a big family and 25 people need a strict hierarchical order - discipline.
She knows her/their business. All she can do now give back her knowledge. And she knows that if someone or a few get a deal one day in Europe they would be gone. And some will. And she has no bad feelings about this.