Senegal’s famous jazz festival returns after pandemic delay

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SAINT LOUIS, June 22 (Reuters) – On a small island where the Senegal River meets the sea, hundreds of masked jazz fans have listened to Franco-Senegalese singer Awa Ly sing the blues during uncertain times.

“Once you’ve touched the sky and come down,” she crooned. “Use your inner senses and you will understand it, like a dream you cannot remember.”

Last year, COVID-19 interrupted the Saint Louis Jazz Festival for the first time in its 29-year history. This year he was back, bringing a well-deserved life to the island of Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its colonial architecture and pastel-colored houses.

African rhythms, funk, gospel and blues could be heard in the narrow streets last weekend, emanating from restaurants, bars and hotels until the early hours of the morning.

“I was relieved and everyone was relieved too,” Ly said after her performance. “It was a great energy, a great vibe and a great bond between the stage and the audience.”

Saint Louis, in northern Senegal, has been spared the deadliest impacts of COVID-19. But a decline in tourism and an economic crisis left residents hungry for a boost that only its biggest annual event could provide.

Considered the largest jazz festival in Africa, it has struggled with declining attendance since its days by hosting headliners like American pianist Herbie Hancock, who performed there in 1996.

But it attracts enthusiasts from all over West Africa and Europe and is a source of pride for the city’s street artists.

“Jazz attracted a lot of tourists so we were able to play in the streets, so we managed to raise some money,” says Adama Ndaw, 25, who is having fun near the Faidherbe bridge, which connects the island of Saint Louis to the rest of the city on the mainland.

“There was nothing last year, but today is good because we still managed to build at least one stage.”

Through a small door leading to an unpaved alley, a bar was packed.

Jamm Jazz, a fusion band from the capital Dakar, were all smiles playing their second of three sets as the audience danced or sat around overbooked tables.

“The festival which did not take place last year was an economic disaster for Saint Louis,” said group leader Moustapha Diop. “This year, despite the crisis, the festival took place because if it wasn’t, it would be a big blow to the city to come.”

Reporting by Cooper Inveen Editing by Edward McAllister and Richard Chang

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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