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Photo: AFP/Sebastien Rieussec
A dancing contest in Mali challenges entrants to excel in traditional dances not their own. Here is a contestant in the “Faso Don,” performing during the filming of the show in the Malian capital, Bamako.

In Mali, an African country still suffering from the effects of French colonialism, ethnic groups have often had trouble getting along, and extremists have moved into vulnerable areas. (See my blog post about a secret operation to save ancient manuscripts from the radicals’ destructive rampage.)

But better days are ahead, especially if more people act on their ideas to promote peace and coexistence.

Sebastien Rieussec wrote recently for Agence France-Presse [APF] about one such person.

“All 3,000 seats in the cavernous Palace of Culture in Bamako had been snapped up, and the mood was at fever pitch as the TV dance competition reached its climax. The three finalists took to the floor one by one, dancing alongside a celebrity — a format familiar to viewers of talent shows around the world.

“But here’s the difference: the three hopefuls each had to perform a traditional dance from a region of Mali that was not their own. …

“In the landlocked Sahel state of Mali, the show has been a raging success. And it has bred a desperately-needed sense of unity in a country burdened by jihadist violence and ethnic tensions.

“The competition is the brainchild of dancer and choreographer Sekou Keita. Just six years ago, he was wondering how he could reverse the decline of traditional dance in Mali, a country whose music is now achieving global fame.

” ‘Our dances are so varied, we have a number of ethnic groups — we’re very lucky to have such cultural wealth,’ he told AFP. … ‘But [dancers] don’t know the traditional dances of their own country.’

“From this came his idea for a program that explored ancient cultural roots and built bridges across ethnic divides — ‘Faso Don,’ or ‘Dances of the Country’ in the Bambara language.

“Over six weeks, TV audiences shared the fate of eight young men and women from different regions, who shared a house Big Brother-style in Bamako, the capital.

“Each week they performed before an audience and the TV cameras, their numbers progressively falling as a competitor was eliminated by a vote by the public and the jury. … The final took place last weekend before an audience exhilarated by the ground-breaking, cross-cultural performances.

“Dressed in traditional costumes, the finalists performed one dance from their region and one from another region, accompanied by Malian stars such as musician Bassekou Kouyate and singers Habib Koite and Oumou Sangare. …

“The winner was Rokia Diallo, a woman from the Fulani pastoral community in Sikasso, southern Mali. Dressed in a flowing gown and a veil, she interpreted the takamba, a sinuous, sensuous dance from the Songhai group in the far north of the country.

” ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this,’ said hip-hop dancer Oumar Tamboura, who had come to support a relative who was also one of the finalists. ‘Until now, people weren’t interested in folk dance, tradition and costumes.’

“Faso Don has not just revived interest in generations-old regional dances in Mali. It has also reinforced mutual respect in a country whose reputation for hospitality is tragically being supplanted by one for violence.”

Read more of this hopeful initiative here. It’s another example of one solitary individual having an idea and making a big difference.

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