Sustaining Creative Relationships across Africa and Europe through Artist-led Innovation


Session Title:

  • Collaborations across Borders: Physical and Disciplinary

Presentation Title:

  • Sustaining Creative Relationships across Africa and Europe through Artist-led Innovation




  • We present a longitudinal series of artist interventions in West Africa, focusing on Burkina Faso, that span the decade, 2000-2010. Its long term nature offers rare insight into sustained relationships with rural, hard to reach tribal communities. By bringing electronic media technologies to destinations offgrid from main information and utilities infrastructures situates these means of creative production in contexts that reveal their potential to facilitate cross cultural communication and actualization of local identity in global contexts.

    The Festival de l’Eau is an artist-led initiative of musicians Camel Zekri and Dominique Chevaucher, founded in the late 1990’s with a series of artist exchanges between Europe and Africa that took place in the form of concert tours by boat to remote villages in Niger, the Central African Republic, and Burkina Faso. This was followed by concerts on alternate years in Europe with the African musicians met on location. In this paper we focus on the tour in 2000 of six villages along the Mouhoun River in Burkina Faso (documented online in Leonardo) and the follow up tour of three of those villages in 2010 by a subset of the same artists. In parallel, the development of the project, RAW, in Mali in 2003 (presented at ISEA2004) created audio-photography techniques for capturing the practice of everyday life. The experience from RAW, and impetus from the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economies (SiDE) research hub at Culture Lab, facilitated the delivery of a digital photography workshop at one of the villages on the 2010 edition of the Festival de l’Eau.

    This paper presents the dynamics of re-encounter after 10 years catalyzed by four types of interventions: the screening of a film of the 2000 trip in 2010, concert performances of European and African musicians in sequence and in collaboration on traditional and electronic instruments, the diffusion of results from the digital photography workshop to participating villagers, and spontaneous interactions. Through this we interrogate notions of post-colonialism and the “glocal,” and draw upon multiple theories of gift economies and gift culture to frame a vision for artist-led innovation.

    From the 26th of december 2010 to the 2nd of January 2011, the Festival de l’eau went to Burkina-Faso and stopped in 3 villages : Léri, Walo and Ouessa. Set-up by the cultural organisation ‘Les Arts improvisés’  and run by Camel Zekri and Dominique Chevaucher, the Festival de l’eau proposes to bring traditional musicians and contemporary/improvisation musicians together. Thus, Atau Tanaka and Zack Settel were invited for this trip. They were also part of the first visit of the festival in the same locations ten years before : the festival decided to come back this year. This was an opportunity to revisit the place, meet again the locals, play music with them again and show them videos that were shot then. As a researcher in the SiDE program, I came along to do a preliminary study of possible future projects in Africa. The study included documenting some of the reunions, interviewing people about technology and infrastructure and doing a digital photo workshop with kids from Léri. Compiled videos show different aspect of this journey. [Video at does not play]

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