Africa is not an economic superpower. But it's no reason for its Warsaw diaspora to live in a cultural lethargy. I am well aware that those who emigrate are prevailingly active people, often ready to work hard. One has to make a lot of effort to collect those couple of hundred or thousand euros from friends and family to buy a ticket and a European visa. But why limit yourself to do trade on the stadium and not try to develop, say, your culture? Music, dance, theatre, plastic arts... are elevating. Does anyone have a better idea for image enhancement? Why do we hide our attractive diversity and let ourselves get thrown into one pot by the notorious question: „Oh, are you from Africa?” Of course, I'd rather be asked „Are you from Mozambique / Gabon / Tunisia / Ghana...?”
A friend of mine, a gradute of Warsaw University and a well-known DJ acting in Polish films came up with the idea to dust off Africa Day, a celebration of African unity. Africa Day is celebrated around the world, in every self-respecting city with an African community: New York, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tokyo... So why not on the Vistula? Why not in Warsaw?
I have lived in Poland much longer than my Mali friend. My impressions as to the will to act on the part of my fellow countrymen and other African friends are such that it can hardly be found. It's hard to gather fellow Africans around a common cultural project to promote the continent. To be honest, I don't know why.
But it's never too late to arouse good intentions. I wanted to give myself a chance too. After all, in the eighties Warsaw had a very vigorous diaspora of students from Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Senegal... At the time, there were only students here, no economic immigration was taking place. Poland's socialism was not so attractive, it's as simple as that. But why were Africans back then able to take action and participate actively in, for example, the Festival of Foreign Students? Celebrations of nearly every country's independence day were taking place, not to mention the Africa Day! Everybody knew, remembered that, say, April 4th was the national holiday of Senegal. The same goes for other countries.
But let's return to my DJ-friend's visit to Warsaw's Powiśle district. We were drinking green tea called 'Ataya,' when he suddenly declared it was time for Varsovians to learn about the May Africa Day! That moment thoughts started running through my head. But one cannot be 105% right. It's enough to be 100% right and DJ Sam was right. Other cultures were becoming a big hit in the capital of Poland. Latin dance schools, especially salsa studios, were springing up like mushrooms after tropical rain. So were festivals and events with salsa music. Arabic music also had its schools, and belly dance was becoming more and more popular. Sheesha Lounge was teeming with people during the weekends. India could count on the fame of Bombay-made films. It also benefited from a hit record by Punjabi MC! The atmosphere was electric. And where was our Africa? It's got to be where the atmosphere is burning hot, that's where we look for Africa. Where is Mama Africa? Why can't we see it on the musical and cultural horizon?
DJ Sam was right. We are given the opportunity to present a tiny fraction, a mere percent of a myriad of cultures, languages, music of the old African continent. Where are African restaurants and cuisines? Is there at least an African music club? Where are dance, film, music festivals? It's a Sahara! Silence and void. I realized that my friend was a thousand times right! Euphoria! Time to take action. Africans are no geese, they have cultures of their own, to paraphrase a Polish saying.
But after a moment I felt disheartened. With whom to organize, act, come forward, invite? Whom – I asked myself. Yet I could not disappoint my friend. Before Obama said loudly „Yes, we can,” I thought to myself quietly „Let's give it a try.” We decided to invite everybody to a preliminary meeting.Talk to guys and girls. There were more and more Africans coming to Warsaw. Most were stuck here, couldn't travel on to the west. Many decided to stay and make a living in Poland. That's what happened not only to my fellow Senegalese, but also to my friends from other countries who had dreamt of Italy, France or England.
To bury alive this hurtful truth of the nineties – that was on my mind before the planned meeting with the people potentially interested in my project in the beer garden of the club Harenda. We are a different generation, the African diaspora have a different attitude now. It's time for mobilization and action. I really thought that the guys would show up in big numbers... But it turned out to be a failure.
Should I continue to count on my people or should I give it up? That was only an apparent dilemma. The answer was straightforward. We are organizing the Africa Day. Why not with embassies and Polish Africaphiles? The whole of North Africa has its diplomatic representation here. The Sub-Saharan part is represented by Nigeria, DR Congo, South Africa and Angola. It was thanks to a minimal support from the latter three that my friend and I were able to revive the May Africa Day in 2007, in cooperation with the internet portal Kontynent Warszawa. What would have happened if that memorable meeting had been held one Saturday night in a Warsaw club?
It's true, there are bands such as Goldfinger, Motema Africa, Ricky Lion, Djolof-Man; there are dance workshops, there are two restaurants offering African flavours and smells and there is an Ethiopian shop to brighten the picture a little bit. But that all is not enough.
The biggest cluster of Africans in Warsaw at the 10th Anniversary Stadium will soon cease to exist. What will happen then? It's time to get organized, damn it! We have over a thousand cultures on our continent! There is no need to feel ashamed of them, no need to pretend we are African Americans. Polish girls know something about that. How many African guys are too ashamed of their origin and keep hiding behind hip-hop culture? This is especially true of men from anglophone Africa and it's very noticeable in clubs. I have my fingers crossed for those who set up their own businesses, associations and foundations so that the continent makes a stronger presence here. The Middle East, Latin America or Vietnam have been doing it for years. It's time to overcome inertia! After all, we can make it!!!
Text by: Mamadou Diouf
Translated by: Alicja Minda