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The St. Louis jazz festival threatened on an island in suspension

Concerts, master classes and jam sessions: For nearly a week, Saint-Louis, a historic town in Senegal, is hosting its 27th jazz festival, an event threatened by financial problems, on an island stricken by coastal erosion.

In the clean streets, the atmosphere is feverish. In Faidherbe Square, at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site for its French colonial architecture, clothing rehearsals are mixed with the rustling of traffic, horns and street vendors.

The festival was inaugurated on April 26 and will end on the 30th, with a concert by the French pianist Lorenzo Naccarato. This edition, placed under the parity seal with most of the female artists, has not yet been able to see the light of day.

"This year has been tricky," said Birame Seck, the festival's director of programming: "There have been terrible tensions in money." Some of the festival's historical partners withdrew their funding. "A month before the release, we still did not know if the festival would happen," Seck says. "We've lost a lot of artists still programmed because of that."

When, around midnight, the last notes of the concert put the sound of Faidherbe, the "off" is in full swing. It is not a bar, nor a nightclub or a restaurant that does not produce talent from all over Senegal.

"At first, we see our artists emerge," rejoices David Lapolice, a native of St. Louis. A jazz jester, the young man returns every year to the festival. "You can see them, take pictures with them, communicate, change, I would not miss it for anything in the world," says the young economic consultant.

– appointment not to be missed –

"If the festival disappears, it will be the end of a major cultural event that gives voice to Senegalese and African artists," said Christine Traore, a young independent consultant for Dakar for the third consecutive year.

"Saint-Louis is jazz and jazz is Saint-Louis," summarizes Malick Sall, Saint-Louisien, who does not count the number of festivals to his credit. This young teacher is however anxious. "Everything is in danger here: music like the pond, you have to protect Saint-Louis, like the festival."

Built on an island at the mouth of the Senegal River, 260 km north of the capital, Dakar, and threatened by coastal erosion, St. Louis could disappear under attack from the Atlantic Ocean. About 200 families have already been forced to move. Eventually, "over 10,000 people will have to be relocated," Louise Cord, the World Bank's director of operations in Senegal, told AFP in 2018.

Not to mention that the architectural heritage of the city, insufficiently maintained, is in decline.

This announced danger does not stop hundreds of lovers of the blue note from joining, after dark, in Faidherbe's place. Two weeks before the opening concert, all the hotels in the city were already full. According to the organizers, the festival attracted 92 thousand visitors from around 30 countries in 2018.

This year, festivalgoers discovered Manou Gallo, a bass player from Cote d'Ivoire who enjoyed the help of his daring virtuosity and powerful voice. "She's fantastic," says Fatou Diop, a student at Saint-Louisienne. "It is encouraging to see all these African women in programming, it is a strong signal for women and for Africa."

Birame Seck, the programmer, wants to believe in the future of the festival despite the problems. "Every year, we have difficulties, but we managed to make the festival after all. It's a must-see event and a real economic bargain for Saint-Louis."


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