As I mentioned in a recent post, my Seli Fitini celebrations were not as fantastic as I’d hoped.  On the other hand, Malian Independence Day 2011 far exceeded my expectations!  This year was the 51st anniversary of Mali’s Independence from France and seemed as though it would be difficult to live up to all of the pomp and circumstance of last year’s over-the-top celebrations.

Although the two celebrations were quite different, I would count the 2011 experience among one of my favorite couple of days in Mali.  The celebration started on September 21 with a lot of chatter about a famous “djelimousso,” or griot, who would be coming from Bamako to perform in a neighboring village.  Everyone was talking about it, and asking me if I was going.  With all of the hype, I knew I needed to check it out.  On the sotrama ride to the small village, I could feel the excitement in the air.  The roads between my village and the host village were full of cars, sotramas, motorcycles and donkey carts.  It felt like all of the surrounding villages were coming together for one night to celebrate their independence and to see the griot.  When I arrived in the small village, all of my assumptions were confirmed.  The concert took place in the local schoolyard and it was totally packed with people.  People were dressed in their finest clothes and strutting through the pathway to the school, which was lined with ladies selling fried food, soda and bags of water.

A natural stadium was created by the mass of people sitting on the ground, in chairs, and standing in a huge circle around the performance area.  I fought through the crowds to find someone I knew and was so excited to find a few of my friends who had great seats.  Once seated, I was able to take it all in, and for a moment the only thing I could think was, “Wow – this is Mali, and I live here.”

As the performance started, I whispered to my friend and asked the name of the performer.  She responded, “Mamou Sidibe.”  The name didn’t mean much to me, as I was just there to be part of what seemed like the event of the century in this small village.

The performance was fantastic.  The singer was accompanied by an amazing group of traditional and modern instruments and joined on the stage by two traditional female dancers.  My favorite moment of the performance was a song that was all about the Fulani ethnic group  in Mali – many of which are traditional herders and sellers of milk.  During the performance, Mamou took a huge vat of milk and poured it into a calabash bowl.  While singing, she took the bowl around the crowd and gave spoonfuls of milk to little kids in the audience.  I wish I was able to capture the performance on video, but I’m usually unable to get good quality photos and video with my camera at night.

The show was an all-night affair, but around midnight, my eyes were starting to get heavy.  I said my goodbyes to my friends and walked back through the crowds to catch transportation back to my village.  Although I was exhausted, I was filled with an adrenaline that can only be provided by enjoying a Malian concert under the night sky.  I’ll never forget that night.

If you are interested in learning more about Mamou Sibide or listening to her music, I’m excited to report that she has a MySpace page – enjoy!

The following day was the actual commemoration of Independence Day, and I biked to a neighboring village to spend the day with the women of my association.  It was a day of total relaxation – we ate (a lot!), drank tea and chatted from the morning until about 5 pm when I needed to go so I could make the journey back to my village before dusk.  The sky was showing signs of a major rainstorm and, although I tried to beat it, the majority of my ride back to my site was in the pouring rain.  As they say in Bambara, “Sanji ye n soro,” or the rain found me.

In the coming years, I will be Stateside on September 22, but I think my mind will certainly always be in Mali, trying to relive the excitement of those two days in 2011.