Mali has a unique and deeply imbedded musical tradition dating back hundreds of years. Bordered by Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, Burkino Faso, Guinea and Senegal, it is a vast, landlocked country, parched and arid, extremely poor, and difficult to navigate as a traveller. Yet aesthetically Mali is spectacular: dramatic cliffscapes, huge skies, the thread of the River Niger which weaves through the country, an unmistakable Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, the most celebrated example being the Great Mosque of Djenne. Perhaps what stands Mali apart most, however, is a distinct and delicately preserved cultural identity…Read More
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Contemporary art throughout Africa continues to flourish and 2019 is looking more exciting than ever. Thursday 14th February sees the start of The Harlem Fine Arts Show (HFAS) - the largest travelling African Diasporic art show in the United States. Investec Cape Town Art Fair kicks off this coming Friday and showcases the most important galleries from across the continent, including Goodman Gallery, Addis Fine Art, WHATIFTHEWORLD, Omenka Gallery, First Floor Gallery Harare... We are particularly intrigued by This Is Not a White Cube in Angola’s capital city, Luanda, which promotes local artists and is working hard to be present at this year’s international fairs…Read More
Over the last couple of years Rwanda has been at the receiving end of some deservedly excellent press. Leading the way, was Wilderness’s Bisate Lodge, on the “hot list” of every glossy travel publication and reviewed by the world’s most renowned journalists. Magashi Camp, also by Wilderness, is soon to open in the north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park, overlooking Lake Rwanyakazinga. One & Only followed suit with Nyungwe House – a tree plantation setting suited to rainforest walks and chimpanzee trekking in the south-western part of the country. One&Only Gorilla’s Nest will follow shortly in the foothills of the Virunga mountain range. And, for those seeking the absolute crème de la crème of luxury safari experiences, August 2019 will see the openings of Singita’s Kwitonda Lodge and Kataza House…Read More
Driving north up the Thika highway from Nairobi and that familiar feeling of excitement settles. I must have driven this route hundreds of times but leaving the dual carriageway for the scenic single lane up to Mount Kenya and beyond is a journey I’ll never tire of. Mangoes in Sagana, the ever-chaotic town of Karatina, young guys on the roadside selling sacks of miraa… Climbing higher and higher in altitude the temperatures become colder. Past Lewa Conservancy, down, down, down towards the dusty, desert heat of Isiolo, the land of Boranas, Turkanas, Samburus, Rendilles, closer to the wilds of northern Kenya. A few hours north of here and the edgy city life of Nairobi is but a distant memory.
Samburu National Reserve is one of my favourite places in the world. As well as the Lenkiyio Hills – the heartland of the Samburu people and a region where time has virtually stood still and embalmed it in the sort of natural beauty only found in areas of extreme remoteness. No roads, no mobile phone network, no light pollution… just endless hills, green valleys, mountain streams, wazee (old men) who walk tens of miles to reach neighbouring villages or Thursday’s market day. This is a place of folklore, where stories are transmitted by word of mouth and the legendary ngambit lives deep inside the forests (a fictional creature – perhaps). Samburu manyattas (homesteads) exist as they’ve done for hundreds of years, houses made of cow dung, ash, and earth and filled with smoke from the little fires kept burning inside. There are a handful of lodges but mobile camping is our favourite way to connect to nature here.
Samburu National Reserve is one of the best places on the continent to spend quality time with elephants. Comparatively, they are less nervous of humans here and tolerant of being observed up close. Watching them cross the Ewaso Nyiro River - stopping in the shallows for mud baths and keeping their young closely protected along the way - is surely one of life’s greatest privileges. But there is more to it than this. Perhaps it’s the omnipresence of sacred Mount Ololokwe which seems to keep a watchful eye over the reserve, the symbiosis of nature and people, the doum palm groves which parch under the sun, the flash of red as a Samburu moran passes through on foot… but the area is enchanting and deeply stirring. The long rains bring colours of utter spectacularity. Twilight in particular with its brilliant orange and lilac streaks against a petrol blue sky.
For the luxury market there is little at the very top end accommodation-wise. Saruni Samburu has spectacular views but is a long drive from the action of the river. Sasaab has a beautiful position on the Ewaso Nyiro and we love its remoteness and close access to some of the cultural highlights of the area. However, the drive to Samburu National Reserve is long so we prefer this as a cultural experience and base from which to explore northern Kenya by helicopter. For those seeking more of an adventure there are some excellent camping experiences – simple but authentic and led by wonderful, warm people with incredible knowledge of the area. A takeover of Lion King Bush Camp offers the opportunity to experience genuine Kenyan hospitality at its best, a stunning riverfront location, Samburu storytelling round the fire and to be hosted by one of the most knowledgeable people in the region. Contact us at email@example.com for further information.
Sitting in a classroom at the University of Lome, a discussion is underway with one of the tutors about his recent encounter with a “djinn”. He was quick to explain to me that “in Togo you never believe in just one thing. We might be Christian or Muslim but there is always something else.” "Vodun", as it’s known in Togo and Benin, was a theme which would present itself time and again in the coming months in trance ceremonies, festivals, shamans, fetishes and rites of passage.
This is a world where people are connected deeply to the spirits of their ancestors and households very often keep shrines designed to protect these deities. It may be un-centralized but Vodun is still is a full belief system which bears no resemblance to the negative connotations of witchcraft in the west. In Benin it is classified as an official religion and it has its own cosmology, set of healing practises, symbols, rituals, divinities and moral guidelines.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Lome’s Akodessawa Fetish Market with its rows and rows of dead animal skulls, hides and skins piled up on tables. Voodoo priests reside in huts where it is believed that they consult with deities. Using different talismans, herbs and animal parts, they concoct remedies for all manner of ailments. Though certainly a tourist destination – a clever idea launched by Beninese businessmen – it still sets the scene for an omnipresent religious and cultural identity. To unravel anything with greater depth takes time, patience and a very good guide.
"La Prise de la Pierre Sacrée", or "Epe Ekpe", is the annual festival in Glidji whereby the colour of a sacred stone tells the fortune of the coming year. The stone is retrieved from a sacred forest by a high priest who interprets its colour. White represents abundance, black is destruction and famine, red is for war, blue is abundance. This was my first experience watching performers enter a deep trance and it was an explosion of gesticulation, singing, drumming, and of course the spell-binding trance where dancers fling their heads back, eyes roll to the back of their heads, movements become wilder and more animated to the crescendo of drums…
Each year on 10th January the Ouidah Festival takes place in Benin – this is the largest, most accessible, and some might say “staged” of Benin’s Vodun events, but it is certainly a good place to start. Ouidah is really the voodoo capital of Benin and hosts many different ceremonies throughout the year. It is also extremely important for its role in the slave trade. The foreboding “Door of No Return” is a monumental arched gateway which signifies the last place hundreds and thousands of people would have seen before being forced onto boats slavery boats – many of those bound for Brazil.
There’s the amazingly colourful, vibrant Geledé festival, dedicated to Mother Earth or Iyà Nlà as she is known locally and is characterized by the beautifully-crafted masks worn by dancers accompanied by singers and drummers. The festival is an ode to Yoruba heritage and includes the symbolic use of animal figures such as birds and serpents.
The traditional Zangbeto ceremony wards off evil spirits and is led by a secret society of mask wearers who cannot reveal their identity. This was one of the most intriguing aspects for me – the secrecy, sacred traditions passed down through birth right, that as a tourist you are exposed to just a fraction of the depth of this belief system. These destinations are not for the faint-hearted, they demand resilience and patience, but from a cultural, musical, and religious standpoint, I’m hard-pressed to think of anywhere more fascinating.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to plan your journey to West Africa.
Cultural sensitivity is a subject close to our hearts and one which fuelled much discussion during our recent visit to the Omo Valley. Is there ever an acceptable time to take photographs of people without asking? What is the best way to try and achieve some sort of meaningful interaction? How can we set the right tone and avoid photo-money exchanges and/or the begging culture which helps no one much in the long run?Read More
There is something thoroughly exhilarating about travelling in West Africa. It bares very little resemblance to the well-established safari circuits of East and Southern Africa, but what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in joie de vivre with some of the best music, art, culture & food on the continent. Lagos & Accra are both dynamic cities pulsating with creative energy and buzz. With young initiatives such as the first Lagos Biennial, Art X Lagos and the Chale Wote street art festival, they are fast cementing their positions as emerging contemporary art capitals of the world. Lagos has its own highly credible Fashion Week with hugely successful labels such as Maki Oh favoured by the likes of Michelle Obama, Lupita Nyong’o, and Beyoncé. Concept store Alara, designed by Sir David Adjaye, has changed the face of high end shopping with its carefully-selected combination of international & African designers. Whilst La Maison in Accra, the brainchild of Nada Moukarzel, has been compared to a Ghanaian version of Milan’s 10 Corso Como.
Gone are the days of looking to Europe for culinary influence. Current trends have seen a return to traditional local ingredients and a modern twist on home-grown recipes. Accra – with Lagos following suit - now has a happening restaurant scene with some very stylish places to eat & drink. They are both entrepreneurial hubs, evolving fast, yet still holding on to their own very distinct identities. A wave of young Ghanaians and Nigerians are now moving back to their familial homelands from NYC and London as there are great opportunities. Yes, these cities are full of contrast, frustrating to manoeuvre, sometimes overwhelming, but you’ll never endure a dull moment.
And lest we forget about music, this really is an absolute highlight for any trip to West Africa. Reggae, rap, hip hop, and Afrobeat are of course popular in Accra and Lagos, with the latter also boasting an amazing jazz scene. Ever-evolving “hiplife” is the dominant musical force in Ghana and fuses highlife with elements of hip hop. I could write an entire thesis on how electrifying and infectious the music of this region is.
We love promoting these dynamic cities, their art, shopping and music scenes, sense of concordance between old and new, traditional & contemporary. Contact us at email@example.com to uncover the buzz of modern day West Africa.
To imagine Mali without music is like trying to picture a world stripped of colour. It signifies a cultural black hole, removal of a heartbeat, destruction of an entire identity. To quote Manny Ansar, director of the Festival in the Desert: “Everything is transmitted in Mali through music, through poetry. We enjoy life through music”.Read More