That old very familiar feeling ........Senegal's famed 29-year-old jazz festival returns after a very painful pandemic delay.

Saint Louis : On a small island where the Senegal River meets the sea, hundreds of mask-wearing Jazz enthusiasts listened to French-Senegalese vocalist  Awy Ly sing the blues for uncertain times.

''Once you touched the sky and you went down,'' she crooned.

''Use your inner senses and you'll figure it out........... 

Like a dream you can't remember.''

Last year, Covid-19 halted Saint Louis' festival for the first time in its 29-year history. This year, it is back, bringing much needed life to the Island of Saint Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its colonial architecture and pastel coloured houses.

African rhythms, flunk, gospel and blues could be heard along the narrow streets, emanating from restaurants, bars and hotels into the early morning.

''I was relieved and  everybody was relieved too,'' Ly said after her performance. '' It was a beautiful energy, a beautiful vibration and a beautiful link between the stage and the audience.''

Saint Louis, in northern Senegal, was spared the deadliest impacts of Covid-19. But a decline in tourism and an economic crunch have  left residents hungry for a boost that only its largest annual event could provide.

Billed as Africa's biggest Jazz, it has struggled with dwindling attendance since its days hosting headliners like American pianist Herbie Hancock, who played here in 1996.

But it drew enthusiasts from across  West Africa and Europe and a source of pride for the city's street performers. ''Jazz attracted a lot of  tourists so we could play in the streets, so we managed to collect a little money,'' said Adam Ndama Ndaw, 25. who busks near the Faidherbie Bridge, which ties the Island of Saint Louis to the rest of the city on the mainland. 

''Nothing was there last year, but today, it is good because we still managed to at least build a stage.''

Through a small door off an unpaved alley, one bar was packed. Jamm Jazz, a fusion band from the capital Dakar, were all smiles, playing their second of three sets as the audience danced or sat crammed together around overbooked tables.

''The festival not taking place last year was an economic disaster for Saint Louis,'' said band leader Moustapha Diop. '' This year, despite the crisis, the festival was held because if it wasn't, it would be a big blw for the city to come.'' [Reuters]


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