Saint-Louis festival takes jazz back to African roots

Thu Jun 12, 2014 8:42am EDT
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By Emma Farge

SAINT-LOUIS Senegal (Reuters) - Once a lively French colonial trading port, the sleepy city of Saint-Louis in West Africa's Senegal bursts into life for just a few days a year during the annual summer jazz festival.

From dusk, jazz from the open-air concert blends with African rhythms, and drifts off the shores of the tiny island where the festival is held down the normally tranquil banks of the Senegal River.

This year's headline act, African-American blues singer Lucky Peterson, would be hard pressed to find a venue more evocative of the suffering of slaves transported to the Americas, widely thought to have inspired the blues more than 100 years ago, than Saint-Louis.

The pastel-coloured, rectangular shops and houses lining the river were once the warehouses for gum, ivory as well as slaves, bound for the Atlantic trade.

But Peterson, a former child star who says he plays blues "with a touch of jazz, a touch of soul, a touch of funk and a touch of gospel", was anything but melancholic on the closing night of the festival on Sunday.

Initially hidden behind dark shades, Peterson opened on the keys with a more than 10-minute cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now", occasionally needling the few audience members still sitting stiff in their chairs.

He then reached for a cherry-red electric guitar for an adrenaline-filled two-hour set peppered with numbers from his new album 'The Son of a Bluesman', prompting a heartfelt encore.

"Lucky was like a man possessed. The energy was streaming out of his pores," Ibrahima Diop, the festival president, said.   Continued...

Blues singer Lucky Peterson plays the guitar on stage at the Saint Louis jazz festival in Saint Louis June 8, 2014.REUTERS/Laurent Gerrer