Public debate

2 min

Traces, by Felwine Sarr

Written by the thinker Felwine Sarr and performed alone on stage by the Burkinabe actor Étienne Minoungou, Traces (2018) is aimed at an African youth in need of some points of reference. It's a lyrical text that looks at the history of the continent and points purposefully towards its future.

© Véronique Vercheval

A complex thinker

Born in Senegal, Felwine Sarr studied economics at the Université d’Orléans, returning to his home country in 2007 to teach the subject at the Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis. At the same time, he had started playing music early on as a member of the reggae band Dolé (Civilisation ou Barbarie in 2000 and Les mots du récit in 2005), then as a solo artist with more of a folk vibe with Bassaï in 2007. Constantly switching between theory and practice, Felwine Sarr fed his mind with his art, and vice versa. His novel Dahij (2009) appears to be an attempt to reclaim his identity through an autobiographical account, while the essay Afrotopia (2016) redefines African utopia and lays the groundwork for his 2018 Traces text.


“I have to talk to you...”

The actor Étienne Minoungou stands alone before the audience. A storyteller from another time, he is an African man back from a long journey to address his young brothers. His voice traces the story of Africa, bringing its dramas to life but with a clear eye on the future, embodying the proud, optimistic thinking of its writer Felwine Sarr. Punctuated by the kora and musical bow playing of the musician Simon Winse, this Speech to African Nations is a stirring appeal for the continent’s resurgence and the emergence of a fairer and more equitable human society.


Sarr/Minoungou: a strong connection

Traces was commissioned by Patrick Colpé, the director of the Théâtre de Namur. An authority on Africa, he had supported Étienne Minoungou's work for many years and could clearly see him performing a monologue similar to Speech to the Nation by the Italian Ascanio Celestini. He suggested to Felwine Sarr that he write the Speech to African Nations, which the writer accepted on the condition it was performed by... Étienne Minoungou! The two men enjoy a strong relationship forged at African festivals and cemented through this theatrical collaboration.


From Africa to the world

Felwine Sarr and Étienne Minoungou often say that Traces is first and foremost aimed at African youth. However, its reach reflects the thinking of its Senegalese writer, who leverages the African experience to rebuild the humanity of the future. Performed for the first time in December 2018 at the opening of the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, this one-man show subsequently travelled to Germany for the Africologne Festival in 2019 and will be part of Art Week in Avignon, France in the autumn of 2020.

L'Institut français et l'oeuvre

Traces by Felwine Sarr is part of La Collection, an initiative that brings together 90 turnkey proposals for the French cultural network abroad, which are easy to broadcast and modular, and span the fields of performing arts, visual arts and architecture, urban planning and landscape. 

Felwine Sarr is also a regular guest of the Night of Ideas. For the 2020 edition he was at the Institut français of Egypt in Cairo.

Finally, the Institut français is a partner of the Ateliers de la Pensée (Ideas Workshops) in Senegal, an initiative by Achille Mbembé and Felwine Sarr, and an event that brings together leading African and diaspora thinkers, writers and academics to reflect on the new questions raised by the transformations of the contemporary world.