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Back To Africa Festival 2012 (Chapter 2)

Back To Africa Festival 2012 (Chapter 2)

Back To Africa Festival 2012 (Chapter 2)

By on - Photos by Aude-Emilie Dorion - 2 comments

After Steve James report about the festival that took place in Gambia in January, enjoy a second one by David Katz with Aude-Emilie Dorion as photographer.

Back To Africa - Mad Professor

The idea of going ‘Back To Africa’ is one that has resonated throughout reggae music from its very inception. For most black people in the Diaspora, an awareness of the African Motherland has been a primary source of inspiration, and many artists and reggae fans alike have long dreamt of returning to the land of their ancestors; even European fans and music makers with enough historical and cultural awareness may hearken to make a pilgrimage to the continent that is undoubtedly the Cradle of Humanity. And for around 400 music-minded souls from the UK (plus a smattering from Europe, the US and South America), an experience of Africa was but a distant dream, until the Mad Professor offered the chance to make it a reality.

Since Professor’s Ariwa stable has been pushing the boundaries of reggae, dub and lover’s rock from his south London base since the late 1970s, it makes sense that the ‘Back To Africa’ festival would result from his vision. Since reggae and dancehall are heavily popular on the continent, holding a reggae festival in Africa makes perfect sense, so something like this has been long overdue. And despite some of the teething problems that naturally resulted from the inaugural issue of what will hopefully be an annual event, it felt like a real blessing to be present.

Back To AfricaThe Gambia is Africa’s smallest nation, a sliver of a country that runs along two sides of a massive river, surrounded otherwise by the larger Senegal. It is a truly beautiful place, alive with all manner of bird life, and the people who live there are incredibly friendly. There has long been a Jamaican presence in the country as well, helping reggae to become more entrenched. Yet, the place is not entirely utopian: it is ruled by an autocrat who seized power in 1994, and is incredibly impoverished, despite being a well-established package holiday destination. Nevertheless, its mild climate meant that each night of the festival, its programme could be presented under the stars, in the small village of Batukunku, close to Prof’s Gambian home base.

With a week’s full programme of events, some days were bound to be better than others, and although last-minute line-up changes brought some disappointment, there were several outstanding performances that must be highlighted here. Following the opening ceremony on Friday evening, with local dignitaries present and fantastic traditional dance moves by the staff of a local nursery school, Tippa Irie gave an upbeat performance, with thematic discs spun afterward by Sugar Dread from London’s Vibes FM. The next night, Macka B had the crowd entirely entranced, delivering a great set with full live backing. Sunday afternoon saw a beautiful session, held right on the beach, with veteran DJ Tony Williams playing feel-good music; then, back at the venue, there was an unusual dub set by producer McPullish from Austin, Texas, and an even more uncommon live performance by the Argentinian dub band, Nairobi, mixed down by Professor’s son, Joe. The next night gave us the Ariwa showcase, PA style, with Earl 16, Cedric Myton from the Congos, John McLean, Sister Audrey and Sandra Cross; the roots music went down very well, and even though the lover’s rock singers were on fine form, the locals seemed a bit baffled by the style. Tuesday night’s highlight was a live dub set from Mafia and Fluxy, playing in combination with Black Steel, but the cream of the crop was saved for the closing night, when, following some rough performances by Gambian hopefuls, Frankie Paul took the stage to deliver a thrilling performance that was greatly appreciated by all.

With afternoon debates on culture and history, plus optional excursions to Kunte Kinte’s birthplace, wildlife spots and places of historical and cultural importance, there really was a lot to take in and experience. The local food was delightful as well, once you knew where to go (think of grilled barracuda with tomato rice, or beans and sweet potato leaves stewed in palm oil, not to mention the heavily fermented palm wine, known locally as Jungle Juice). Of course, a festival of this duration, held in a country with so little infrastructure, was bound to encounter a few difficulties: certain hotel rooms were decidedly below standard, and some attendees complained that getting to and from the venue was an ordeal (the distance was far, the free shuttle bus did not run to schedule, and sometimes drivers demanded petrol money). Nevertheless, such hurdles simply increase the chances of future editions running more smoothly. This is a festival with enormous potential, and the beauty of the Gambia, with its exceptional setting in West Africa, meant that this experience was an extra special one that will surely remain in the hearts of those in attendance for many years to come.


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Read comments (2)

Posted by tooreal on 02.23.2012
Leroy Simmonds performed too!

Posted by Tage on 02.27.2012
"the locals seemed a bit baffled by the style" : sounds quite normal as none of the artists on the line-up of that festival is part of the artists loved by the Gambian people, or artists which they normally listen to. From the line-up I only see Macka B or Tippa Irie who could create some interst from the Gambian Massive but no-one else.
Veteran Frankie Paul is well respected over there but as far as he does live there, most of the people have had the habit of seeing him live on the President's events.
Would be fine if the next edition of the festival hads a programmation not only aimed at the foreign audience but also the local massive.
Turbulence was for a moment on the line-up and is a fine example of the vibes the Gambian massive love, but he unfortunately wasn't confirmed.
Big Up to Mad Professor still.

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