Semmama: From conquest of peaks to long-lasting task force

This time it was hardly necessary to wear out one's hiking shoes to set off on the winding and steep tracks of Henchir Faouara leading to Djebel Semmama in the north-west of Tunisia (governorate of Kasserine), where the first edition of the Shepherds' Festival has been born 11 years ago, an adventure with a human dimension which guided by the author of "The Silence of the Hyenas" Adnane Helali, has become in a few years a real project of societal inclusion supported by the strong commitment of several stakeholders who believed in it, joining forces and supporting the population.

On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition "Starry Night of Semmama" on May 2, the shepherds and shepherdesses of this region of Sbeitla, who have become over the years cultural promoters of their region, together with a beehive of artists from all over the world, were the guests of honour in the Swiss Embassy's premises in Tunisia, to celebrate the launch of the first drafts of the immersive stays "On the road to Semmama," the first action of the TACIR programme: Talents-Arts-Creativity-Inclusion-Research.

A societal inclusion project to show Semmama in a different light

With the support of the Swiss Cooperation, a strategic partner, the TACIR programme conducted in collaboration with the Cultural Centre of Arts and Crafts of Djebel Semmama (CCAM) and the CIRTA Cultural Centre for Culture and Youth in Kef is an initiative of the multimedia and audiovisual association Amavi, which has just taken shape.

And to show Semmama in a different way, a cosmopolitan audience -diplomats, associations, cultural actors, etc., was there to discover the fruits of meetings, exchanges and creations inspired by the life stories told in the works exhibited or through a strolling show interpreted by several voices, but all speaking a universal language, that of resilience: Create to exist, resist to live.

Before hurrying to follow this mixed artistic journey led by confirmed artists from seven countries on three continents - Belgium, Chile, Spain, Pakistan, Mexico, Argentina and Switzerland -, Swiss ambassador to Tunisia Josef Philipp Renggli pointed out that this event is part of the cooperation projects with Tunisia, which is a priority country for Switzerland, notably in the cultural sector.

The organisation of such an event outside Semmama, which has been the scene of terrorist attacks over the past ten years, will allow those who do not live in the heights of the mountains to take a more convenient look at this region, which is full of wealth and talent and which has succeeded, thanks to the will of its population, in making it a place of life, culture and hope.

Isn't culture "an expression of struggle without weapons, of dreaming without sleeping, of opening a window to all that we do not know by spending our time reading reports?," This is how visiting Director of the Swiss Development and Cooperation Department (SDC) Patricia Danzi presented the event.

A metaphorical twinning that becomes real

Taking the floor, Amavi President Chiraz Laatiri underlined that the TACIR programme seeks to contribute to social inclusion by allowing young people to access creativity, through the support of creative projects, the training of young people in image-related professions, the encouragement of entrepreneurial culture and the support of innovative initiatives.

As such, with the "Starry Night of Semmama," creativity starts a new itinerant residency with this first stage in Tunis, she added.

Born out of the conviction that in a context of multiple crises in Tunisia, equal access to culture and creativity is certainly a lever for social inclusion and professional insertion, TACIR can modestly claim to be considered a Task-Force in the sector of cultural and creative industries (CCI), and in terms of supporting young people with life projects -creative talents whether graduates or self-taught- where there is creation, aesthetic renewal and innovation.

This "committed" programme, she explained, which has just been hosted by the inspiring world of CCAM Djebel Semmama and served by the commitment of Adnen Helali, who remains a model of an artist who has succeeded in transforming the cultural landscape in Kasserine, will continue in 2024 in Gabes, Redeyef and Sidi Bouzid and in 2025 in Tozeur.

Adnen Helali pointed out that the 11 editions of the Shepherds' Festival show a strong commitment to continue celebrating life in Semmama and that hope exists through this metaphorical twinning that is becoming real between Semmama and the Swiss Alps but also other mountains, such as the famous Hunza Valley in Pakistan, from where the flutist Niaz Hunzai came especially to give a concert on May 6 at the Ibn Rachiq Culture House.

A Patchwork signed by 7 countries, 3 continents as a prelude to the spring journey

What has been achieved lately with the support of the Swiss Cooperation, he said, is the fruit of this wide circle of partnership and friendship that has allowed unique experiences to be lived, which have served to build for this event a prologue that is only the outcome of a residency between the shepherds of Semmama and foreign artists to weave the seeds of friendship around the "esparto braids."

Invited to walk through the various sections of the exhibition, where multiple sounds, country voices, folk and jazzy rhythms set the pace, those present strolled through the different spaces of the embassy, converted in a few hours into art circuits.

Pastoral songs, sung notes of shepherds' voices or confirmed singers, sounds of the "gasba" (traditional Tunisian flute), guitar, percussion, give a feeling in this hybrid show of the moans of the suffering earth, of the mother who gives birth, of souls who implore God to guide men on the path of peace.

To create this patchwork, Chilean flutist David Gutierrez, Pakistani Niaz Hunzai, Mexican jazzman Fernando Sanchez, Spanish singer Esther Farga and Belgian artist Dran Xu II have teamed up with Swiss percussionist Juri Cainero, founder of the ONYRIKON company, to present the work "M'rachines" whose performers are none other than the young people of Semmama.

In the Swiss diplomatic quarters in Tunis, the enchanted mountain of Semmama is continuing to mark its presence on May 5-6 through the graphic exhibition "Transhumance," in which Khaled Khayati traces the paths of the Troubadours of the Jebel and "Trig El Photo," which is a photography exhibition conceived by Mohamed Dabbabi, a child of the mountain, alongside the handicrafts of the women of Semmama.

Between Halfa, wool, crochet, pottery, wood, the various products of the Djebel queens match the "Land'art Halfa Klee/ Tons croisés" of young Spanish artist Edgar Massegu, who was inspired by Paul Klee's work "Camel in rhythmic landscape with trees."

While waiting for the public to admire this transdisciplinary work called "Starry Night of Semmama" in which the Semmama, the Pyrenees and the Swiss Alps are twinned with creations in halfa inspired by the painting "Starry Night" by Van Gogh, the shepherds and the artists took to the road on May 3 to a new destination "Tozeur" in the spring journey "Trig El Hattaya:" A caravan with new plural encounters where the love of music, rhyme and rhythm around world music will be there until May 7, with a many stopovers including Gafsa, Kasserine, Hydra, Jendouba, Bou Arada, Dougga, Zaghouan and Siliana.

Source: Agence Tunis Afrique Presse