* Senegal's colonial port comes alive for 5-day festival
* Concert headlines veteran blues artist Lucky Peterson
* Senegalese guitarist Samb seeks to "Africanise" jazz
By Emma Farge
SAINT-LOUIS, Senegal, June 12 Once a lively
French colonial trading port, the sleepy city of Saint-Louis in
West Africa's Senegal bursts into life for just a few days a
year during the annual summer jazz festival.
From dusk, jazz from the open-air concert blends with
African rhythms, and drifts off the shores of the tiny island
where the festival is held down the normally tranquil banks of
the Senegal River.
This year's headline act, African-American blues singer
Lucky Peterson, would be hard pressed to find a venue more
evocative of the suffering of slaves transported to the
Americas, widely thought to have inspired the blues more than
100 years ago, than Saint-Louis.
The pastel-coloured, rectangular shops and houses lining the
river were once the warehouses for gum, ivory as well as slaves,
bound for the Atlantic trade.
But Peterson, a former child star who says he plays blues
"with a touch of jazz, a touch of soul, a touch of funk and a
touch of gospel", was anything but melancholic on the closing
night of the festival on Sunday.
Initially hidden behind dark shades, Peterson opened on the
keys with a more than 10-minute cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can
See Clearly Now", occasionally needling the few audience members
still sitting stiff in their chairs.
He then reached for a cherry-red electric guitar for an
adrenaline-filled two-hour set peppered with numbers from his
new album 'The Son of a Bluesman', prompting a heartfelt encore.
"Lucky was like a man possessed. The energy was streaming
out of his pores," Ibrahima Diop, the festival president, said.
Organisers have been seeking to boost the participation of
local artists, partly to break down the local perception that
jazz and blues music, despite humble origins, is elitist.
Senegalese jazz guitarist Herve Samb was invited back to
Saint-Louis after last playing at the festival alongside
Peterson in 1993 when he was just 14 years old.
"The goal was to bring back together two exceptional
guitarists 20 years afterwards. This year's edition is all about
the comeback," said Mame Birame Seck, who selects the artists.
Twisting his hips in serpentine motions, Samb performed
long, emotional call-and-response sessions with his saxophonist
and drummer. Among the instruments in his band was the "Sabar" -
a traditional west African drum set originally used to
communicate between villages many kilometres apart.
"He played his butt off," said Peterson, summing up Samb's
For Samb, jazz, which began as a fusion between African and
European rhythms, can still be inspired by African music.
"Many fusion projects are driven by musicians outside of
African culture who don't know our music in depth. It needs to
be reversed so it's driven by us," he told Reuters.
The "comeback" theme also applies to the event itself. Now
in its 22nd year, Africa's biggest jazz festival has in the past
seen greats like Herbie Hancock but audience numbers had dipped
in recent years amid budget constraints.
While the budget this year was "just a sliver" of the 205
million CFA Franc ($424,800) that was sought, according to Diop,
ticket sales have climbed in 2014 to around 5,000 and hotels
were booked months in advance.
"We lost the confidence of a lot of our partners and now
they are coming back," Seck said.
($1 = 482.5300 Central African Cfa Franc Beacs)
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Michael Roddy and