Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Festima Day 2

March 3rd

Woke up this morning a bit before 7, early enough that I was the only one up and about. I only woke up a few times in the night, not bad considering I'm sleeping on cement with only my yoga mat plus a towel and a pagne as padding, my extra clothes and bug hut bag wadded up in a pillowcase as a pillow. We didn't get moving until pretty late, maybe by a bit after 9 everyone was up and moving. We grabbed avocado-egg sandwiches for breakfast (yum!) and went back to the same venue as last night. We bought the expensive tickets, along with our photography passes (3 mille total, not bad considering).

There's three kinds of seating. For 100cfa you can stand at the edge of the performance area behind a fence, but you mostly see the backs of the masks. For 500cfa you can sit in chairs under tents. For 1000cfa, you get to sit in stadium-style seating and the masks dance directly in front of you. We chose the expensive seats and ended up taking some of the reserved seating in the front row since the VIPs were clearly at another venue this morning – I was nervous but we were right up in the action! If you're coming all this way, might as well spend the extra money. This weekend has cost just about 20 mille, but since it's probably one of those once in a lifetime things, it seems worth it. We got lucky and it seemed to be a “mask review” so we saw 4 or 5 groups instead of just 1 or 2. I got some decent pictures, but I'm going to see if I can get copies of Anna's photos since she had her fancy camera with a zoom that had me green with envy.

Each group parades into the center of the performance area from “off-stage” – first the musicians, then the masks, then the entourage (some of which seem useful, most of which just get in the way of your photos). The musicians and entourage go over to the microphones to the left, and the masks sit/lay down on the ground facing the stands. The musicians play, but there's also a separate drummer and flute player who seem to cajole each mask in turn to get up and dance. The musicians are often accompanied by some kind of “mask handler” and they appear to work together to inspire, antagonize, energize, and eventually calm down the mask when it's time for him to sit back down. The whole thing has this aura of either overdone drama, or inexplicable spiritual forces at play. The masks seemed lethargic until they're spinning and flipping and dancing, it looks spontaneous yet perfectly coordinated to the music, and they often seem reluctant to perform (hanging out by the musicians, sitting back down) until they are sufficiently encouraged or antagonized, and then they go out of control and dance until one or several handlers rush in to hold them and take them back to the edge of the dancing circle. It was weird, but also really interesting. The music consists of drums, whistles, recorders, wooden three note flutes, and sometimes balafones. Not something I'd be rushing out to buy a CD of, but it did fit the frantic, on edge performance energy.

The masks are dressed differently depending on where they're from and what kind of mask they are. I saw some in tight fitting cloth outfits, some in raffia outfits cut short so they looked like bristles or fur, some in raffia left long so it looks more like a mop, some that looked human and some that didn't. Some performers wore small or large wooden masks (several feet tall or wide) while others wore raffia sculptures or cloth face coverings.

The last act we saw before leaving for lunch involved what we lovingly named the “haystack” and the “Mardi Gras haystack”. They danced and moved around for a bit (the MGh did some lovely undulating) but the surprising part was that this one was interactive. There was a group of women in matching pagnes dancing with the musicians, and a guy dipping a branch into water and sprinkling it around. The haystack stopped moving at one point and sat down, a big raffia cone with a suggestion of a face area. They started beating on it and whipping it and sprinkling water and spitting alcohol on it, then tipped it over and continued to do the same to the empty cone structure inside. Where did the person go? The kept at it, tipped it up again, tipped it over again, and inside was a little statue of a mask dancer that turned. They showed it to the audience, blessed it, put it back under the mask, and tipped it back up. It started to move again, but sat down. So they tipped it again and there was a bird! Again, showed to everyone, blessed, tipped back over to cover the bird. Whipping and blessing resume. It shakes a little but doesn't get up. They tie a cord to the front and get 3, then 7 men to try and move it without success. The second time they even snapped the rope, but the mask didn't budge an inch.

Then they got a girl, maybe 7 or 8 to try, and the minute she pulls the string, the mask gets up and starts dancing again. Poor girl was terrified! The announcer held her hand up like a lightweight champ and walked her around the circle, then tried to get her to touch the mask and take a photo with it. Well, then it moved and she started crying and refused to get near it, so the announcer discretely gave her a mille and sent her back to her parents. The dancers came over and started pulling people out of the audience to dance as the group slowly made their exit. It was a very long and odd performance, but a cool thing to see.

We went home for lunch and had couscous with peanut sauce made by Kate's neighbor, then people headed to the pool. My back tire was completely flat and leaked audibly when I tried to re-inflate it, so I went to get it fixed. Sadly it was the $14 tube (thanks Mom!) I brought back from America, the one that is supposed to self-seal small injuries, but this was a tear at the valve stem where the tube had gotten moved inside the tire rim. He actually cut out the valve, sealed the hole completely with a piece of rubber and a hot piece of metal, then attached a moto tube valve. It took over an hour, but was kind of fun to watch, despite the repair guy being very lethargic and cranky, and not really speaking French or Moore or anything I understood. Still, he managed to do it, and I even got him to smile by the end. I'm crossing my fingers that it lasts for a while!

After a nice dinner with a small group of people (5 instead of 10 or 20) we just sat and talked, and now I'm getting ready for bed. Tomorrow is early to Ouaga, back to work and the real world. Still, it's been an awesome visit and I'm glad I got to experience Festima, and DDG, and seeing so many friends in one place! Photos up on Facebook.

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