1/2013
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Djibouti: When culture reclaims its rights

The Ugandan group Kinobé Africa, on visit to Djibouti, in concert at the IDA stage called “Espace Gaffaneh” named after the famous Djiboutian artist, now deceased.

Only eight years after its launch, the Institute in charge of educating Djibouti’s artists, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, enjoys a favourable reputation.

The Djiboutian Institute of the Arts – in short IDA from its French name – continues its expansion into the field of urban culture in Djibouti and offers a pedagogical program which includes not only Art history but also practical studies such as the mastering of musical instruments, drama and visual arts.

The students are young adults aged 16 to 26, recruited after finishing high school. From the start in 2005 and up to now, six classes of musicians, actors and visual artists have reached graduation.

The creation of this school, which is a first in the Republic of Djibouti, is the concrete outcome of a political commitment at the highest level of the Djibouti nation in order to strengthen the expression of its cultural identity through the Arts.

The Institute organizes a great number of extra-mural activities, including shows where music, costume and traditional dances work together to offer a glimpse of Djibouti’s cultural diversity. In this way, the IDA shares during the time of a presentation its perceived task of being a representative guiding the public in the discovery of Djiboutian culture.

At the same time, these shows constitute many possibilities for the young future artists to get out of the closed quarters of their school, to encounter other audiences and to confront their developing skills with the reality of the stage and the public’s expectations ‒ to put into practice the methods and techniques that they have been studying in class.

The music company of the Djiboutian Institute of the Arts participating at a “Café Concert”, regularly held shows organised by the French Cultural Centre in Djibouti, which is an important cultural partner of the Institute.

The great number of authentically local melodies and rhythms allow the young musicians, pride of the Institute, to perform brilliantly pieces both from their own repertoire and from the national song archives.

Doing this, they put into practice the principle saying that good knowledge of how music functions technically, constitutes the best basis for performing the subtlety and the eloquence that characterize the largely oral musical expression in Djibouti traditions.

Witnessing the enthusiasm with which the public welcomes them at each of their shows, at least we can say that the IDA musicians answer expectations.

Never has art and culture been as much discussed as after the creation of this Institute. There was a time when the practice of the arts was rather in decline, but today, people are again very much aware of it.

Apparently, IDA is the necessary instrument that had been missing from the cultural structure before. But let’s not omit to mention that although taking culture into account in the public politics of the country has positive effects, it didn’t happen by chance.

It’s the outcome of well thought-out and measured politics, answering the need to affirm ourselves as a national cultural unit, opening new perspectives for our younger generations of artists and creators.

This double reasoning is actually betting on the future, contributing to the transformation of our national cultural heritage and making it richer, while enhancing all the vivacity, dynamism and diversity of the Djibouti youth.

The IDA Orchestra on national tour in 2011, to celebrate the 34th anniversary of Djibouti’s independence (on June 27, 1977).

Although this Institute for the promotion of artists is only at the beginning of its activities, the question of professional insertion for its graduates becomes all the time more pressing. The school is confronted with a high level of drop-outs, as students quit as soon as they get a job, even a temporary one.

The art field is certainly an important vector of social integration and a youngster who accesses a formation centre is sure to escape many dangers, such as delinquency and unemployment. But in a situation where the market for art is not very structured, the ultimate challenge is to find ways and means to identify tangible professional outlets, in order to catch and channel the interest that the youngsters do have for the professions in the fields of art and culture.

And the challenge today, in Djibouti as elsewhere, in particular in Africa, is to make people generally aware of the importance of art and culture, in order to allow artists to live in dignity, from their art.

Hasna Maki is Chief Executive of the Djiboutian Institute of the Arts ‒ Institut Djiboutien des Arts (IDA). She was born in Djibouti in 1966. A journalist by training, she worked for 20 years for the Djibouti Radio and Televison company (RTD), first as a journalist, then editor, and finally as head of department. She left the RTD in 2006 when she was appointed Chief Executive of IDA. She is also the mother of a 5-year-old boy.

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Photos: IDA

Translation of the original French text: Suzanne Lilius