Using rare cinematic, photographic and sound archives, XARAASI XANNE – CROSSING VOICES recounts the exemplary adventure of Somankidi Coura, an agricultural cooperative created in Mali, in 1977, by western African immigrant workers living in workers’ residences in France. The story of this improbable, utopic return to the Sahel region follows a winding path that travels through the ecological and decolonial challenges and conflicts of agriculture practices from the 1970s to the present. Bouba Touré, tells this story by plunging into the heart of his personal archives, which document the fights of farmers in France and in Mali, as well as those of immigrant workers. But the film is also a story about dialogues and transmission, friendships and cinematic geographies. Different voices enter the sound-scape to accompany Touré’s storytelling; they bring the tale of a forgotten memory toward a possible future sung by a polyphonic griot.
About Somankidi Coura
The farming cooperative of Somankidi Coura in Mali was established in 1977 by 14 people with a militant and migrant workers’ background. The group first met in Paris in the collective ACTAF (Cultural Association of African Workers in France) initiated to support the ongoing migrant workers movement in France and the liberation struggles in Cabo Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau. After the repeated Sahel droughts and famines of the early 1970s, the collective composed of hundreds of members started to think of alternative economic and farming practices in the villages to challenge the neocolonial agriculture and living conditions in the countryside. After some agricultural internships in the Marne and Haute-Marne in 1975 and 1976 in France, the group made their militant return on the Senegal River near the city of Kayes, at a crossroad of migration, in order to settle a farming cooperative. The cooperative still exists to this day, finding its subsistence economy between multi crops farming (onions, bananas, okras, milet, sorgo, chilli, etc) sold on the local markets, and seeds production (onions Violet de Galmy and okras) with regenerative practices associating agro-pastoral farming in rainy seasons, and irrigated gardens over the year. The co-op Somankidi Coura was at the initiative of the free radio Radio Rurale de Kayes, of the Association of the Women of Somankidi Coura, of the URCAK, the Kayes Regional Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, and of the association of regional seed producers COPROSEM.
About Sowing Somankidi Coura, a Generative Archive
Sowing Somankidi Coura is a long-term research endeavor and collaboration between Raphaël Grisey and Bouba Touré around the permacultures and archives of Somankidi Coura, a self-organized cooperative along the Senegal river founded by a group of former African migrant workers and activists in France in 1977 after the Sahel droughts and famines of the early 1970s. Sowing Somankidi Coura unfolds and generates cine-geographies that reveal the boundaries between the radical tradition of migrant workers struggles in France, the Pan-African history of the cooperative and potentialities of agroecology.
Through a practice of film, archiving, publication, workshop and theatre, the militant visual essays presented in the exhibition engage in the articulation of liberation narratives, collective care and peasant alliances. The aim of the project is the denaturalization and decolonization of migratory and developmental politics. By telling the story of a generation of migrant workers in Europe soon after the decolonization, the several visual materials presented in the exhibition, which includes Bouba Touré’s photographs of the collective’s early steps in the making of the cooperative, presents an historiography missing from national narratives that contradicts the idea of the migrant as a passive subject of history while reversing the north-south relations.
About Bouba Touré archives
Bouba Touré (1948–2022), militant, photographer, filmmaker, writer, farmer, film projectionist and transmitter passed away in January 2022. He left a rich and unique archive, documenting the life and struggles of so-called “migrant workers” living in foyers (“migrant worker” housings) in France and Mali from the 1970s, the rise of the Sans-papiers movement, as well as other Pan-African and internationalist solidarity and social movements at large in France. The archive also contains a huge stock of works commissioned in the respective local communities (events, celebrations, concerts, portraits) by individuals, families or associations from the diaspora and in the many villages along the Senegal River. They reveal his daily practice as a chronist, which was not bound merely to photographic documentation but also incorporated the practice of writing diaries. Another fundamental part of the archive is the decades-long documentation of the activities of the farming co-op and village Somankidi Coura in Mali, that he co-founded in 1977. The personal archive of Bouba is composed of negatives, photographs, hundreds of DV video tapes, slides, manuscripts and various other documents. Most works of his professional and private archive, which fill over 30 carton boxes, have been transferred to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Saint-Denis in France, in the spring of 2023, following his will as close as possible.
In order to make the archive quickly accessible to the public – be it to community members, relatives, activists, researchers or friends - 20,000 negatives and 2,000 slides have already been digitalized since the summer of 2022. Simultaneously, the expanded family of Bouba Touré started the long-term work of creating a pre-inventory of the documents and especially of each set of negatives (around 80,000 negatives in total) – that Bouba Touré cautiously dated and captioned all throughout his life – to offer the possibility to navigate his archives, search, and eventually complete the inventory in a participatory process involving a larger group of people.