We recently explored the secrets of Africa’s most iconic fabric, Wax, but the continent is home to other textile treasures, including bazin.
Bazin, closely related to bombazine, is a damask or brocade fabric that originated in England, and enjoyed huge popularity in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
During the 19th and 20th centuries it arrived in Africa via Mali, where a multitude of dyeing workshops sprang up, along with businesses importing the fabric across Africa. Production then spread to Senegal and Ghana, but Mali’s bazin remains the most famous, although the raw cotton fabric is imported from Germany, the Netherlands or China.
Its manufacture is highly intricate and takes place in several stages, and the sewing, knotting and dyeing, all make bazin a very expensive fabric. Unlike other cloths, bazin is not ironed but beaten with a wooden stick weighing 2 kilos. This practice has even created the profession of “bazin beaters”.
The 3 types of bazin
There are actually 3 types of bazin, all with different qualities. Designers and merchants still refer to these fabrics in the original French. The first, the premium one is characterized by a superior quality thread and weave and this characteristic really shows up in the brightness and vibrancy of the fabric.
The second, Moyennement Riche, is a medium quality or second-choice fabric born out of the arrival of cheaper Chinese cotton and the quality is reflected by a price half that of rich one.
Finally, the lowest quality – Moins Riche – costs a quarter of the price of the finest stuff. It is also made from Chinese cotton, but of a lower quality than the medium rich. This puts this iconic textile within the reach of people of more modest means.
This fabric is mainly used for traditional outfits but it also found in decoration or furniture. The wrap or pagne, a garment that is also made using wax, is commonplace in religious and cultural ceremonies, where it symbolises tradition, childhood, Africa and family. It is offered as a gift, and in particular as a dowry for marriages.
In Africa, men and women will often pay large sums for swatches of bazin, making it an important part of a country’s economy. In fact, between the jobs it creates, the factories, its high price and the wealth generated by sales, it can be a serious source of income.
However, the production is controversial. Natural dyes have been replaced by chemicals, and men and women often work without protection in hazardous conditions. Furthermore, poorly paid bazin beaters often have to work day and night in times of high demand.
Bazin night – La nuit du bazin
Senegal has its very own celebration of this iconic fabric. La nuit du bazin is a festival created in 2005 to honour the fabric with a range of original couture outfits.
Between a concert and a total devotion to this remarkable stuff, as well as to the “King of Bazin” himself, Djiby Dramé, an artist famous across Africa for his music, this event is a real showcase, a true homage.