By Brian Booth
Live music is still popular in Gabon and has been since the 1960s. Lip-syncing became popular in the 1990s with the arrival of hip hop. Very few local artists perform live with the exception of major artists like Pierre Akendengué, Annie-Flore Batchiellilys, Didier Deckokaye, Patience Dabany and Arielle T.
Live music venues
There are very few live venues in Gabon. Bistros, or ‘troquet’, snack bars and nightclubs are usually where hip hop music is played.
The Cabaret des Artistes and Évasion 2000, located in the Ozangué and Pk8 neighbourhoods in Libreville, offer live music. There are also a few bars in the cities of Franceville, Moanda, Port-Gentil where live music is played on weekends.
The major drawback is undoubtedly the fact that young people are not drawn to live music. Gabon, especially the city of Libreville, has only one live music venue proper at the French Institute of Gabon (IFG). Other concerts are held in remote areas.
In Libreville, concerts are held at the 800-seater Komo Cinema Hall and at the IFG, which can seat 400 people indoors and 3 000 people at its outdoor space.
The Angondjéou stadium can accommodate 40 000 people while the Nzeng-Ayong stadium as well as the grounds of N'Tchoréré College can accommodate about 4 000 people. This latter is where French rapper Booba performed his last concert in Gabon. Makiavel, Singuila and Petit Pays also performed there.
Until a few years ago, major concerts were held at the Gabon Expo, which is known for hosting cultural activities. Private gigs were held in the conference room at the Cité de la Démocratie in Libreville. Promoters struggle to find affordable and safe venues.
In addition to the Casino Croisette, bistros, major hotels in Libreville and public concert venues, live music is played in all churches in Gabon. Several local artists such as Mami MAF, Bussine and Nova Carlotha began their careers in choirs.
Several festivals take place in Gabon. Festival Gabao, organised by the promoter Jules Kandem Tanguiawa, and Grand Nord en Concert, organised by the journalist and promoter Harlet Boris Ekoghat, are the most notable. They attract thousands of people.
Every year, Festival Gabao hosts several local and international artists over three days. This event has given a boost to the careers of several Gabonese artists including Franck Ba'Ponga, B Good le Rasta, hip hop band 241 and many others.
The Grand Nord en Concert, hosted on the grounds of N'Tchoréré College, is a festival that brings together more than 5 000 people from the Fang ethnic group every year. In Gabon, the Fang ethnic group, from the north, is a majority. Over time, the festival has opened up to other ethnic groups.
The last four festivals held (until 2016) have included several traditional modern artists from various ethnic groups (Punu, Nzebi and Miéné) to promote their cultures. International artists such as Coco Argentée and Lady Ponce, two icons from Cameroon, have participated more than once.
In addition to Gabao Festival and Grand Nord, several structures such as AFJ Productions, Yoka, Mayena Productions, Urban FM and Sykon Industrie organise ad hoc festivals with the participation of several renowned international artists.
Sponsors and art patrons
Several event promoters have suspended their activities due to a lack of sponsors, art patrons or support from local authorities. Finding a sponsor is a exceptionally difficult task.
Nevertheless, mobile phone companies (Airtel Gabon, Moov Gabon, Libertis and Azur Gabon) are major sponsors of cultural events. Brewing companies such as Sobraga (Société des brasseries du Gabon) also contribute.
Art patrons in Gabon are generally politicians from the ruling party. Businessmen and people acting in good faith are rare. The only businessman currently supporting cultural events is Seydou Kane.
Nevertheless, Gabon is a country where the music sector has potential and a bright future.
French Institute of Gabon: http://www.institutfrancais-gabon.com/
Gabao Festival: https://www.facebook.com/festivalGabao11eme/