In the small community of Bereba, Burkina Faso, the heat lingers consistently at an oppressive 100 degrees Fahrenheit, its resident farmers working the day away tending to their animals, harvesting vegetables, and carrying out the household duties, all completed with access to neither running water nor electricity. When the hot sun descends and darkness falls on a Friday evening, the village comes to life with a weekly dance party. Children join their parents; young adults move to rhythms of popular music. Amongst the hundreds of revelers, a few carry flashlights, but most plays out in darkness, save for the continuous flash that emanates from the camera of Californian photographer David Pace.
Pace has called Bereba his home away from home for nearly a decade, devoting a few months of each year to introducing his photography students at Santa Clara University to life in Burkina Faso. Although he is a foreigner, the people of Bereba have welcomed him wholeheartedly. The DJ of the Friday dances numbers among his close friends, and he always comes baring his latest prints as gifts for his neighbors. When he is at home in California, he talks to someone from the village “almost every day” through social media and text messages. Cell phones, he explains, are very much a part of life in Bereba, powered by solar panels or generators like the one used to fuel the sound system on Fridays.
The dances, says Pace, are unmissable. They occur almost every week, the jubilant noise reaching his house a half-mile away. The venue is Le Cotonnier, or “the cotton grower,” named for the nation’s largest source of income. Below the dancers’ feet is a fractured concrete floor; above them, the night sky. The photographer chooses not to resist the impulse to join in while shooting the dances, preferring to be in the throes of moment, alongside hundreds of fellow merrymakers, rather than capturing it from the outside.
Ultimately, Pace’s Friday Nights is both a tribute to these specific individuals—his friends— and a testament to the realities of everyday life in West Africa. In response to the sensational and tragic imagery we often see from this part of the world, the photographer says simply, “I want to show that people lead peaceful, meaningful lives there.” As the village grows and develops, he hopes to capture the rise new trends while honoring the old. Says Pace of the people in his two homes—in the United States and in Burkina Faso—“We have much in common and a lot to learn from each other.”
All images © David Pace