Rich and Different

blaise compaore-traditional fulbe dancers burkina faso

Traditional Fulbe Dancers, Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is a country whose cultural heritage is very rich thanks to its 60 different ethnic groups living together. The maintenance of traditions and harmony among its diverse population is vital for nation building. Burkina Faso’s success is due not only to its strong integration tradition, but also to its political will and cultural innovation. Burkina Faso exports its own cultural products and hosts regional and international cultural events across its territory. A few examples:

The Warba Festival in Zorgho : Held every two years in the center of Zorgho, this Festival regroups the best Warba dance troupes. This mystical and densely coded dance holds such pride of place on a cultural level in the country of upright men, that a museum has been built there to maintain its practice.

The Culture and Horse Festival in Barani, FECHIBA: Located at the border with Mali and mostly peopled by Peulhs, Barani hosts horse races and equestrian art competitions each year – including horse care and dressage. The Horse Fest is an ancestral allegiance paid to the traditional ruler.

The International Masks and Arts Festival in Dédougou, FESTIMA: This biennial event regroups masks manufacturers from Africa and elsewhere (notably Europe). It fosters dialogue between cultures to help safeguard and regenerate them.

Throughout his presidency, Compaoré fervently supported Burkina’s cultural florescence. From the mid-90s on, Burkina Faso became the heartland of African cinema and theatre with prominent figures such as Sitigui Kouyaté awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009 and considered as the one of the greatest contemporary African actors, as well as thanks to the experimental works of the Atelier-Théâtre burkinabè (ATB). The International Dance School of Choreographer Irène Tassembédo trains professional dancers from throughout the continent, transforming itself into a center of choreographic research. African “design” shines through artists such as Hamed Ouattara and Inoussa Dao, whose “Ultra Design Made in Africa” ​​furniture is shipped to Europe and the United States. As cultural life reached its peak around 2010, Ouagadougou seemed to have turned into a “hot” place.

Hence, the acclaimed enfant terrible of the German avant-garde art scene, the late Christophe Schlingensief, chose Ziniaré to build his Opera Village. Designed by renowned Burkinabè architect Francis Kéré and built next to the open-air granite sculpture museum Laongo inaugurated in 1989, the controversial artist wanted to make the world sit up with a production made in Burkina. So did Blaise.

Ouagadougou is famous for its biennial Pan-African film festival FESPACO. It was inaugurated in 1969, and went on to become the biggest regular cultural event on the African continent, the “Cannes of Africa” where, the “Golden Stallion of Yennenga” – the continent’s top film award – is conferred.

blaise compaore-fespaco zola maselco

FESPACO 2005 Award Winner Zola Maselco ( South Africa) for his film Drum with Blaise Compaoré

The Film Festival of African Women, JCFA is taking place place over a few days in rotation with FESPACO, this event promotes female filmmakers only. The JCFA Days are held in the first week of March, before the International Women’s Day on March 8.

Established in 1990 by the government, the International Art and Craft Fair (SIAO) became one of the most important African handicraft fairs. Sellers from more than 25 countries come every two years to Ouagadougou, attracting some 400,000 buyers and visitors.

Furthermore, every year since 2000, Burkina Faso’s capital city has been hosting the International Book Fair of Ouagadougou (FILO), an important event for the promotion of books and reading in general. Compaoré’s ambition for FILO was to make it as famous as the other two major Pan-African cultural events in Ouagadougou, namely FESPACO and SIAO. Although FILO didn’t really live up to this ambition, it became a very important platform for African writers – Burkinabè in particular – and a powerful vehicle where youth workshops and literary competitions promote the benefits of reading and culture to younger generations. Among the renowned Burkinabè writers are the legendary Joseph Ki-Zerbo and his work The History of Africa, Jacques Prosper Bazié who mixes, with poetry, literature and African wisdom, as well as the first female novelist Monique Ilboudo with her work Malheur du Peau. And, the writer and poet Titinga Frédéric Pacéré created the Museum of Manéga, to honour and safeguard profound Africa. The museum is specialized in the Sacred that perpetuates culture, symbolism and its objects. Exhibiting unique and rich pieces, with even a collection  dating from the 2nd to the 11th century AD, it aims to strengthen understanding and dialogue between civilizations and to fight against the looting of the continent’s art objects and cultural genocide of cultures.

Blaise Compaoré greatly contributed to the renewal and revival of the Burkinabè culture via many State-backed private initiatives, in the fields of cinema, theatre, and music in particular. This opened the way for artists to benefit from other opportunities, with productions staged on an international scale.

Unflagging efforts were made to get a prominent Burkinabè monument to enter the exclusive “World Heritage” club for the first time. On June 26, 2009, the ruins of Loropéni were classified by the UNESCO as “works of outstanding universal value.” The imposing lateritic walls date back to a millennium, and bear witness to the power of the trans-Saharan gold trade that flourished for eight hundred years in West Africa.

All these cultural government initiatives, which eventually turned into major events on the African art and crafts scene thanks to the support of its partners, have considerably stimulated Burkina Faso’s own film and local craft industry.

But in addition to strengthening cultural heritage and creativity, creating jobs, and gaining international recognition, effervescent cultural and artistic expression modes have also played a key role in reinforcing Burkina’s cohesion as a nation. In March 2014, during the National Week of Culture (SNC) in Bobo Dioulasso, the words peace and dialogue took pride of place onstage with the various forms of artistic expression.

Amid a tense political climate due to the debate on the amendment of Article 37 of the Constitution, many artists regarded this event as an opportunity to encourage the Nation to reconnect in favor of peace. As choreographer Salia Sanou said in an interview broadcast by RFI on March 30, 2014, “this event aimed at reuniting the Burkinabè so they could state:

“We are a Nation; indeed, at times we may fight and say certain things, but let us unite in dialogue with a forward looking vision for the future of our children and our country.”