My apologies for not getting this post up sooner, but on September 22nd, 2010, I judged a Malian dance contest. Yes, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Malian independence from “Les Frogs,” my village hosted a dance contest for fifteen local villages.
The day began with me and Mapha being some of the first people to arrive at the event. It was set to start at 0830; it started at 1100. Originally we had sat in the middle of the front row of chairs under the main hanger. Slowly, however, we were pushed to the side as more and more important people appeared. The Mayor, Dugutigi, organization heads, Sous-Prefet- all arrived to take part in the festivities and “needed” to sit in the front row. Eventually I was seated well off to the side, but still sort of in the front row. Great place to put the judge.
As the event got going villages and ceremonial groups began filtering in. There were the Elders, the Malian Boy/Girl Scouts, the different dance troupes, and the traditional militia. The Malian traditional militia is a group of Malian men dressed up in leather outfits, firing powder rounds out of out of old ass single barrel shotguns. And they are crazy. They fired these whenever and however they chose during the event. Middle of a speech? Fire them off. Dance group performing? Better run into the middle of their set and fire your gun in the most animated fashion you can. Sometime their guns would jam and they would be abusively jeered by the crowd until they could redeem themselves. One of the younger boys even had a sawed-off shotgun he couldn’t control when fired. More than once it became a projectile entering the crowd.
When the dancing got started it was damn cool. Everyone crowded into a huge circle with the music on one side and a massive dance area in the middle. Each village came up one by one and put on a “dance”. Clearly dance is in parentheses because not everyone actually danced.
One village, for instance, just did karate (Malians love karate?). Others though had masked dancers, dance troupes, matching outfits- clearly they took it all very seriously. It was especially awesome when the drummers would get a good beat going and the place would lose its mind. Instantly huge impromptu dance parties would erupt, with people literally leaping out of the crowd and onto the dance floor. Even the old men would spring up, run out there, and break it down with their cane.
Hands down, however, the best part of the day went to the village that put on THE puppet show. They literally tied two people into a sheet and onto a straw mat with boards on one side for support; the other side of the sheet (outside) was a bunch of hand puppets. The crowd then picked them up, started a drum beat, and began dancing with these people up in the air. The puppets, meanwhile, were going insane thanks to the Malians inside. The Malians did all sorts of movements with these suspended individuals, however when the straw mat was suspended completely upside down and the puppets and puppeteers kept rocking, that’s when they truly won.
The event ended with the judges tallying up the winning scores. The scoring was a bit odd, though, since myself and the two other judges just stood in a circle off to the side and yelled arbitrary numbers for each village. Very effective, let me tell you.