Masala Welt-Beat Festival

Masala Welt-Beat Festival

Macire Sylla in Concert at Masala Festival, Hannover 2004

Macire Sylla in Concert at Masala Festival, Hannover 2004

The ‘Masala Welt-Beat Festival’ is a yearly festival that aims at bringing different cultures together. The festival takes place in and around Hannover, Germany with music concerts, world market, discussion forums and diverse intercultural events on the program’s list. AFRITOPIC attended the festival and interviewed Gerd Kespohl, who is one of the initiators of the festival. Also presented are photos from one of the festival’s concerts featuring MacireSylla.

Interview with Gerd Kespohl.     

Gerd Kespohl

Gerd Kespohl


 Afritopic: This year is the 10th anniversary of ‘Masala Welt-Beat Festival’. How did you develop the festival’s concept?

Kespohl: One of the tasks of the organization I am working for, ‘Pavillon Kulturzentrum’, is to introduce diverse cultures of the world to the public. This includes presenting non-popular music from different parts of the world. Initially, we broadly classified the types of music in relation to their continents of origin and started an event-series in 1985 with African musicians. The series received very a positive resonance from the public. This motivated us to initiate another concert series aimed at presenting artists not only from Africa but also from other continents. The concept was to invite relatively unknown music artists from different continents. In fact, the names of some of the artists we invited were so alien that the public had difficulty in pronouncing them. Unfortunately, the concerts did not attract enough interest and we had to cancel the series a year after. We realized that we could generate more public interest if we organize the event in form of a festival with a mixture of well-known music stars and less poplar upcoming musicians. We developed a 3-day weekend festival concept with the Pavillion as the festival’s venue. The first festival in 1995 brought a mixture of different music artists to the Pavillion in Hannover and the name ‘Masala’, an Indian word meaning a mixture or blend of spices, was conceived.

Afritopic: How did you move on from the first festival?

Kespohl: Through the feedback from the public and invited artists, we knew that we had the right concept. In the following years, we invited both famous as well as new artists while the public interest and support grew. We looked for ways to extend the scope of the festival and decided to cooperate with the ‘Landesmuseum’ (National Museum) in a first step. The museum maintains very good contact to Asia and organizes regular exhibitions on Asian arts and culture. This gave us the opportunity to provide a venue other than the pavilion, where artist could perform and the public could enjoy both Arts exhibition and music. Music group from Vietnam and the African musician, Abubakar Toure from Mali, have performed on the museum’s premises. Our next step was to contact the theater in Hannover ‘Theater am Aegi’ with the idea of using its hall for theater performances, which we intended to include in the festival’s program. From there we moved on to cooperate with the proprietors of the ‘Gartentheater Herrenhäuser Gärten’. Each summer, a colorful traditional garden festival takes place for weeks on the premises of this royal garden, making it a perfect venue for the extension of the Masala Welt-Beat festival. At the garden festival, the music is traditionally classics, so we optioned for a Tango orchestra to perform instead of an African group as part of the festival. We continued to extend the catalog of events and the events’ venues. We even organize events in the suburbs and other regions around Hannover. In this year for example, we invited a Scandinavian music group, which performed at the ‘Schloss Landestrost Neustadt’. In this way, we have been able to gain synergy effect by attracting people with different tastes and at various locations to the festival.

Afritopic: Which other events have you included in the festival’s program apart from music groups from different continents?

Kespohl: We developed the festival’s concept on 3 basic units; music concerts, workshop and world market in form of a bazaar. The bazaar should also serve as a platform where Africa initiative organizations could present their work as well as acquire political and business information. The bazaar attracts more people each year. There were about 500 visitors some years ago and this year, we receive 5 000 visitors per day. It also provides opportunities for local artists to meet international artists and eventually work together. Another important part of the program is the children program, which for the fourth time this year includes the big attraction, ‘Kinderkarawane’ (children caravan).

It is very interesting to see children from diverse cultural backgrounds playing with each other and having fun together in a way that shows that the skin color does not play a role. We hope that by introducing children to other cultures at an early age, the festival could contribute to better understanding between the cultures. We want the festival to serve as a converging point of different cultures. People from other cultures living in Germany should have a feeling of being at home and Germans have the chance to meet other cultures through music.

Afritopic: I could see that you are very interested in intercultural issues. Do you develop the interest through contacts or travels to other countries?

Kespohl: I would say that the interest comes from my personality. Already as a child, I could not understand why disputes should provoke violence. I was of the opinion that there should ways to settle disputes without violence. I was always against violence. As I grew older, I started developing interest in people and people’s behavior. I later studied philosophy and German at the Hamburg University, where I made languages, people’s feelings and way of thinking my major topics. I did not have any special influence from music nor do I play a musical instrument. I grew up without bias and my interest in people grew naturally. I realized that the general negative opinion about foreigners by some Germans is not true. It is normal in life that there are differences in views but I believe that peaceful solutions or compromises could always be found. I have not been to many countries. I was in Greece and Thailand but never been to Africa. That is why it is like a virtual travel for me when I see people from different cultures at the festival. My interest in intercultural issues developed through my interest in people.

Afritopic: How do you coordinate and manage the organization of the festival?

Kespohl:. In the very beginning, my colleague Christoph was working in the Pavillion in the department of political issues and I was responsible for concerts. On the initiation of the Masala festival concept, we decided to work together. In the first 3 years, Christoph Sure and myself shared the responsibilities of organizing the festival between us. We contacted music artists, people interested in the world market, sponsors, institutions and organizations. We then delegated duties to other people working for the Pavillion or hired to for the festival. The festival became bigger, so we decided that each of us should be responsible for a defined set of tasks. Christoph is now responsible for raising fund, finance, accounting and organization. I am responsible for negotiations with artists’ agents and music groups. In this way, we have been able to meet the management and coordination challenges posed by festival, which has been extended to 16 days from the initial 3-day festival. However, we need to hire more people each year to cope with the growth. Last year, in addition to the in Pavillion, we hired 75 people to work for the festival.

Afritopic: You mentioned fund raising. How is the festival financed?

Kespohl: Events, concerts and other fees generate between 40 % and 50% of the total cost of the festival. Government and political institutions sponsor the rest. The total cost of this year’s festival is about Euro 280 000. The commercial aspect is not our first priority. Though by visiting the World of Music (WOM) expo, we maintain contacts with music labels to produce the festival’s music CD and get the latest information. Christoph and I do not receive extra payments for organizing the festival. Our remunerations are practically covered by our salaries at the Pavillion.

Afritopic: In which direction do you think that the scope of the festival could be extended?

Kespohl: After each festival, we analyze and discuss the feedbacks, events as well as our observations. We do not plan for many years in advance. In the beginning, we said, ‘we shall continue to organize the festival as long as we enjoy organizing it and stop at the peak of our success in organizing the most beautiful festival. Probably in 10 years’. That was 10 years ago. The festival is our ‘baby’. We are responsible for it and for those who have been helping to make it a successful event. We want to see it become even more popular. If we find a new theme that fits into the festival’s concept, we would definitely include it in the program. This year for example, we are working together with the School of Music to organize a discussion forum with the topic ‘Made in Africa’ in which the African fashion designer, Oumou Sy, will participate. We are also presenting a fashion show by Oumou Sy sponsored by the German Central Department of political Education. We have received suggestions to organize the festival on large premises that could take up to 5000 visitors. But we do not want the festival to grow beyond our control. We prefer to organize diverse intercultural events for a maximum of 1500 attendees.

Afritopic: Do you have internship possibilities for students that would like to gain event management experience?

Kespohl: We have two young people helping with the organization of the festival. They were involved in the general planning, advertising and public relations. We also have 2 students that are writing their diploma thesis on the festival. I was surprised to hear that the festival has become a topic for diploma thesis. The festival is now science.

Afritopic: What is your wish in relation to intercultural developments in Germany?

Kespohl: We have people from different cultural backgrounds living in Germany. I wish that these people were welcome and integrated into the German society and not secluded in ghettos. I wish that the people coming to live in Germany made use of the opportunities available to learn the German language and wish that the Germans were more open to accept other cultures. Christoph and I wish that the Masala festival would continue to serve as a platform, where diverse cultures would meet, adore and appreciate each other.

Macire Sylla in Concert at Masala Festival, Hannover 2004

Macire Sylla in Concert at Masala Festival, Hannover 2004

Afritopic 2004


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