These days, Burkina Faso is more likely to make headlines for terrorist attacks than for being a hotbed of culture and innovative collaborations. A renowned Japanese composer, a famous Burkinabè singer, a Congolese rapper and a group of traditional West African musicians known as griots have come together to create an opera in Burkina Faso. It’s a move they hope will help bring the country’s history to life.
Renowned Burkinabe singer Maï Lingani, one of the collaborators, says the opera is part of a larger movement of Burkinabe musicians and artists trying to create work that helps audiences understand the ongoing conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced one in ten Burkinabè.
“We try to put happiness in people’s hearts and change mentalities. We have to work a lot on our sense of solidarity and patriotism,” Lingani told Quartz. “The terrorists are getting closer, because we are not together.”
After a chance encounter in Berlin with famed Burkinabe architect Francis Kéré, the first African to win the Pritzker Prize, Japanese composer Keiko Fujiie set out to collaborate with local artists to write the country’s first opera to be performed at Opera Village. , a construction that an eccentric German filmmaker commissioned from Kéré, but the project ran out of money before the opera house could be built.
Burkina Faso Opera Collaboration Brings Weaving Cultures Together
The vast opera in three acts entitled There or Here (Là-bas ou ici en français) is based on a novel by an exiled rapper and activist named Moyi Mbourangon, also known as Martial Pa’nucci, who fled Congo-Brazzaville after protesting against the restriction of presidential terms and has lived in Ouagadougou ever since.
“Here or there, it’s the same land, but my heart is elsewhere, every morning I’m taken back to my homeland”, griot and main collaborator of Fujiie sings the main chorus in French, in a deep and charged voice of emotion.
Written in the form of dreams and letters from Mbourangon to his mother back in his native land, the opera explores themes of home, belonging and exile. The stories surrounding the current insecurity in Burkina Faso, which has affected the lives of the griots Fujiie works with, are also intertwined.
“I really wanted to weave Martial’s story and this current reality in Burkina Faso,” said Fujiie, who has seen the security situation in Burkina Faso deteriorate over the past two years. As a classically trained musician, she also wanted to challenge the “aristocratic” history of opera and create an opera that could be performed for ordinary people.
The opera will be the second in the region, the first of which was the Opéra du Sahel commissioned by a Dutch prince and performed in Senegal.
Fujiie lives and works with Maboudou Sanou, a griot, and his family in a modest house in a community on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. The other griots – Yacouba Sanou, Boureima Sanou and Ibrahim Dembélé – are all part of the same family. The opera’s second act premiered at the French Institute in Ouagadougou earlier this month, with the entire opera due to be completed next year and performed across the country and region.
“After two years with this community of griots, I really changed inside – I learned their music and they learned my music, so why not have two composers,” said Fujiie, who established parallels between Japanese and West African musical traditions that are both passed down from generation to generation within families.