This article is part of a series documenting my 2020 journey to Gorée Island, Senegal. For others in this series, click the Africa category on the left side bar. Thanks for reading! © 2020, all rights reserved.
In no other place have I witnessed such complete transformation from the darkness to the light, from the basest evil to the purest love. Once the hub of the West African slave trade, today Gorée Island vibrates with peace, love, art, community, and humanity. Here, art is just another shared element, like air and water. Here, the purpose of art is communication, connection, and community building. All are invited to participate, whether by creating, appreciating, or both. As an artist myself, I find my endless source of renewal and inspiration in this ecology.
Cobblestone pathways flow between historic repurposed buildings and uphill, winding through an enchanted display of art by local residents.
Soft waves caress my thoughts as birds zealously chant and flutter through the flowers, conversing about all that is important.
Nearby, drummers may spontaneously gather and elevate the earth with rhythm, including cassé cassé, a percussive instrument that makes me want to shimmy shimmy, created from a tree commonly found in Diogué Island in southern Senegal. Through Fallou and Sallou, this has become an international sensation, especially in Japan, where the instrument has been named Asalato. They make it look so simple, yet it’s incredibly challenging!
In the afternoon, songs of a hundred angel voices echo from the Mariama Ba all-girl's school, and I am transported to paradise. And sometimes at night, strong, joyful, and gorgeous singing permeates the air from the other side of the island.
The other day I heard from a distance someone playing not a hand drum, but the drum kit. I decided not to mind my own business and pursued it, leading me into a tunnel that pivoted to a room, whereupon I was welcomed to the drummer's practice.
This historical metamorphosis of Gorée Island, alive with every sunrise and sunset, expressed through the collective heart of the community and through the light of each individual, has fortified my sense of hope like no other. I can imagine no greater response to history. If it can be on Gorée, it can be anywhere. It's been an immeasurable gift to spend some time living this existence and learning so much from it.