Visiting St Louis: Jazz Capital of West Africa

St-Louis, Senegal

St-Louis, Senegal: The Jazz Capital of West Africa

When you hear about St. Louis you might conjure up an image of the Missouri city renowned for stellar jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and the legendary Josephine Baker. However, across the Atlantic Ocean there is another famous St-Louis. And, like its namesake in the United States, it is also known for jazz.  In fact, St-Louis, Senegal is often regarded by many as the “jazz capital” of West Africa.

This vibrant city that was Africa’s first French settlement still has its colonial character. Once the capital of French West Africa, St-Louis has not lost its charm and appeal. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, particularly in May when it is time for the annual St-Louis International Jazz Festival.

Annual St-Louis International Jazz Festival in Senegal, West Africa

Concert in St-LouisAlthough the festival only began in 1992, the tradition of jazz goes back to the 1930s in St-Louis when music originating from Cuba could be heard on Senegalese radio. Music has always been an integral aspect of Senegal’s heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation through the griots who are praise-singers.

One such griot whose career was launched through the jazz festival is Ablaye Cissoko. Cissoko, a Senegalese musician, plays the kora, a traditional 21-stringed instrument from West Africa. Another artiste whose performance at the festival helped to establish him as a world-class artist is the St-Louis born musician Abdou Guite Seck.

Local and regional performers have not been the only headliners at this event. World famous jazz musicians such as Randy Weston, Herbie Hancock and the late Joe Zawinul have also showcased their musical skills at this venue.

At St-Louis’ jazz festival the old world meets the new. The tam tam drums and the kora play together with the piano and saxophone in perfect harmony.

The jazz festival offers a superb opportunity to observe the rich Senegalese and West African culture. Visitors to the land of Teranga (Wolof word for hospitality) can also experience much of what Senegal has to offer including internationally known Djoudj National Bird Park, Niokolo-Koba National Safari Park, the infamous Goree Island and Saly Beach Resort among other sites.

The next St-Louis International Jazz Festival will take place from May 28 to 31, 2009.  For more information on the festival or traveling to Senegal, please visit:

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