Saint-Louis - A Senegalese jazz festival initially cancelled because of regional Islamist violence opened on Wednesday to the delight of fans, but under tight security and with a headline act pulling out at the last minute.
This year's edition of Senegal's Saint-Louis Jazz festival was saved after extra security measures were agreed upon by officials and organisers last week, and will run as expected until May 16, 2016.
But police checkpoints and hundreds of uniformed officers were in place across the northern city on Wednesday, reflecting a nervousness among authorities and citizens that was absent from last year's event, since when several Islamist attacks have rocked Senegal's neighbours.
A vibrant billing of local and international artists were lined up to play, including Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, US jazz fusion bassist Marcus Miller and Senegal's own Cheikh Lo.
But late Wednesday organisers announced that Miller, who had been a major attraction, as well as the Moroccan collective Bob Maghrib would not be travelling to the event.
Festival spokesman Alex Tendeng cited “the security context and funding issues” for the cancellations without providing further details.
The festival has in previous years attracted stars such as US gospel singer Liz McComb and Brazilian icon Gilberto Gil.
“Everything has been done to ensure a great festival with a considerable security presence,” regional governor Alioune Aidara Niang told AFP hours before venues opened their doors.”
One police officer told AFP they were also patrolling nearby maritime and river borders with Mauritania.
Hundreds of people gathered for a first evening, which featured a performance by the young Senegalese singer-songwriter Sarro, but the number of visitors to the town seemed down on previous years, an AFP journalist said.
Senegal has until now avoided the kind of deadly attacks mounted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups that have claimed dozens of lives in Burkina Faso, Mali and most recently Ivory Coast.
Security has been beefed up at hotels, supermarkets and public buildings across the west African nation in response.
Mariama Traore, prefect for the region, had previously cited “the prevailing security environment, the vulnerability of the municipality of Saint-Louis and the refusal of the organisers to engage in the security efforts”, for the event's suspension.
Senegal's president Macky Sall announced last month that he would boost manpower and equipment for military and civil defence forces in the face of increasingly bold attacks by jihadists in neighbouring countries.
Alboury Ndiaye, a hotelier from Saint-Louis, told AFP the festival was expected to raise around four billion CFA francs ($7 million) for the local economy.