Freemuse conference in West Africa in April 2005

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Fruitful Freemuse conference in Senegal

A regional conference on Censorship and West African
Music was held at the Gorée Institute in Dakar, Senegal, on
the 9th and 10th of April, 2005

By Aminata Touré Sagna, independent journalist

Video documentation
Video documentation

The event gathered around twenty participants from various countries – Congo, Denmark, France, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Netherlands, Rwanda, Sweden and Senegal – with a large variety of backgrounds such as musicians, journalists, professors and human rights specialists. During two days, they shared their knowledge, expertise and experience on the crucial subject of censorship in West African music.

The media participants
Four Senegalese medias, among the most active, participated in the conference – three from the daily written press and one comminatory radio. The International French Radio, RFI, also attended the meeting.

The journalists were participants as well as they covered the event as reporters during this conference. This is unusual. The exchanges of views between journalists and artists were very friendly and reflected the very interesting collaboration of these two sectors. As a consequence, interesting publications on the conference were made in the represented daily newspapers immediately after the end of the workshop.

The conference turned out as an interesting learning experience for the journalists who participated in the workshops. This conference gave the opportunity to journalists to share testimonies and experience from actors of the events, actors and events from so different countries. The journalists were able to collect lots of useful information on the status of the censorship and auto-censorship in many other countries and continents. Usually collecting this information on this subject from such a diversity of countries and continents might be very hard, if not impossible.    

They discovered censorship cases that would hardly happen in the Senegalese context, like in Mauritania where artists must submit their songs to the authorities for prior approval before these can be authorized and published.


Impact of the conference

Freemuse raises concrete issues on musical censorship. It publicly expresses and formalizes individual and common private concerns. It will certainly have a positive impact and will be a brilliant advocacy to the Senegalese authorities to urgently tackle these issues. The idea of putting in place the adequate legal environment to support and extend the competencies of the High Media Council was raised during the conference. This could help the artists to appropriately manage and balance their allowed time in the audio medias. The High Media Council should also be able to address ethnic frustrations for a better management of the necessary social cohesion.

Although pernicious, censorship does really exist in Senegal and requires a huge mobilization of the musicians through a strong association to vow their rights. That would be a solution to their concerns.  This option should be considered with the highest interest and might be the starting point of tremendous changes in the musical sector. 

Workshop on female music

A workshop on women musicians gathered twelve participants including two women musicians from Senegal. After an introduction by the Freemuse Programming Officer Ole Reitov, who talked about injustice made to women musicians the world over, mostly in countries like Afghanistan or Iran, Noimot Olawiloya from Nigeria took over to chair the workshop which subject was: “Women Musicians, same game but different rules?”.    

The discussions within this workshop raised the issues such as: Body and dressing of the woman musician (Is the musician woman free in her bodily expression?), Restrictions on the words in the songs of the woman musician, The woman musician and the instruments (Playing instruments has always been considered as taboo for African women), and: The woman within the musical industry (no women managers in the musical industry, nor women turners. Every single thing a woman musician does is managed by men.)

The effective and active participation to the workshops opened the door for interesting exchanges regarding the women musicians and censorship. Journalists were well represented and provided instructive feedback.


Mixing different backgrounds

In the Senegalese context, the friendliness of the atmosphere appeared to be the most visible and interesting aspect of this conference. Also, almost all of the participants effectively attended the meeting, which reflects the realistic and high standard of the conference’s theme that raised a serious interest of all participants. Discussions were constructive, concise and proficiency directed. The workshop was warmly simple, instructive, professional and added value to all participants.

Presence and effective participation of all invitees despite the week-end and the heavy load of their professional duties and familial obligations testify the high interest of the subject for everyone, included the people from the press.

Sharing of knowledge and experience during the debates and workshops gave the opportunity to learn a lot from one another, especially with the testimonies of those who shared their own experiences from various countries. All participants added value to his knowledge, expertise and personal development.

This is certainly the most valuable reward for Freemuse who understood the interest of mixing so many different backgrounds and experiences from so different sectors and countries around a realistic and very interesting theme.   

Human resources met the expectations of the participants. Their contribution in various aspects such as historical, social and artistic areas have enhanced the personal learning and interest of artists.


The Gorée Institute did well in organizing the event, technically and logistically. The professionalism they delivered helped to ease and push the workshop forward.

The Freemuse conference was fully positive and participants are dedicated to implement the recommendations. They expect from the institution a concrete support during the phase of setting the structures that will protect the artists, advocacy to the authorities to push them fulfilling their duties and responsibilities, but also get access to the information for artists. Even if musicians are aware of the major role they will have to play in their artistic liberation, they expect Freemuse to be on their side to fight for the freedom of musical expression. The key issue will be on the implementation and follow up of the recommendations.

Excerpt of an article in the Senegalese newspaper Le Quotidien (in French)

Article by Mbagnick Ngom, published in the Dakar newspaper Wal Fadjri on 11th of April, 2005 (in French):  Censure musicale : ces garde-fous qui

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