Adventures in The Gambia!
On 28th January 2018, 39 Artists from Manchester arrive in The Gambia for an experience and journey no one could expect..
We’re greeted with anticipation, excitement and The Gambian national press! After a quick interview with Leon, Holly and emerging producer, Freya Bennett-Neilson, the team piles into 3 crowded Gelly Gelly’s for the hour-long journey to Kartong, a small village near the border with Sengal and our home for the next 2 weeks.
We jump straight into action the next morning with a drumming and dance workshop on the beach at Halahin Lodge with Leon and Adriana Rosso. The visual artists get stuck into their brief of making a giant puppet for Saturdays lantern parade through the village. Emily Wood and Gordon Banks lead the team of 10 artists to design a 3m tall Ochun using materials locally sourced. Ochun, the deity of motherhood and the river, is charitable, accommodating and engaging. Her origins are in Africa, yet through Brazilian dance, music and visuals, she reflects the nature and importance of our work.
The second day brings treats for all across our art forms. Drummers and dancers are whisked off to a master class with local artists, Modou Diouf where they gain a more in depth knowledge of Senegalese Sabar. The visual artists travel to the nearest town, Brikama, famous for its craft artists and markets. They each sit down with African Mask Master, Biyal and work with him to create a personalised mask, each based upon a traditional Gambian masquerade character.
The next day we’re back together at Halahin for a relaxed day of workshops on the beach. The morning sees a sharing for the whole group from the kids some of us met the day before in Brikama. They captivate us all with a traditional performance of Kankouran, an important character from Mandinka culture.
The afternoon goes by at a casual pace while the artists finish off their masks, dancers continue to rehearse with Guinean dancer, Bella. Drummers get stuck into a fast paced djembe workshop from a local djembe master ‘Bongo’.
Thursday sees the whole group working together for an incredibly moving day at St Martins, Basic Cycle School, Kartong. The team collaborates to teach the kids Brazilian dance, song and lantern making in preparation for our performance on Saturday. Throughout the day, we create over 150 lanterns and teach at least 400 children. Word spreads fast through the small community, allowing us to engage with more and more locals. By the end of the day, we realise that the excitement from the room has spread right across the village and children who wouldn’t normally attend school have joined us to dance, make and sing. In the afternoon, Mika De Oliveira leads a singing workshop with a song for Yemanja, which echoes through the hall, and follows us for the next few days of our journey.
The Kartong Festival gets going on Friday night with artists from across West Africa performing all evening till Tuesday. The festival takes place at a completely transformed St Martins to see craft and food stalls, travellers and the entire community sharing and celebrating.
We’re treated to a series of incredible performances from West African Artists and a sharing of traditional characters. Kumpo, another traditional character from the Mandinka tribe, captivates the festival with a stunning costume and seemingly gravity defying movements.
The second night of Kartong Festival is the culmination of our work as we bring the first ever illuminated lantern parade to Kartong. The day is spent adding finishing touches to Ochun and preparing the lanterns for what turns out to be a magical parade through the village.
A crowd gathers as soon as we arrive at the Market ground, a central meeting point for the community and our parade start point. Just as the sun sets, we set off through the streets, led by Ochun. The news of us gathering again, spreads fast and when the kids from Brikama fire the drums up, we’re met with a huge crowd. We’re joined in the parade by Small is Beautiful an international Carnival project from Cabasa Carnival Arts, dancers from St Martins School, drummers from Brikama and 150 local kids each carrying a lantern.
The parade culminates with a performance at the festival ground and a final interview with The Gambian media. The energy from the audience and performers makes the whole team feel welcomed and engaged within the community. We spend the evening enjoying, sharing and reflecting upon the performance with each other and our new friends.
The next week of the trip brings opportunities for collaboration, and immersion within Gambian culture. Everyone’s journey differs with experiences in different parts of the country. Some members of the group venture to Janjanbureh, deep in the jungle where they experience African river cruising, hippos and monkeys. Others choose to stay in Kartong and build upon friendships with the community.
The journey takes us all to places we never thought we’d be with friends old and new. The GG family has grown and we all hope it’s not too long before we’re back and sharing in more fantastic arts and culture from around the world. Thank you to everyone who joined with us along the way!
Images by Leon Patel, Dan Jones and Kate Rothery