André Balaguemon has a aptitude for the trumpet and for getting issues completed. In 2016, this single-minded multi-instrumentalist from central Benin moved to Natitingou within the distant agricultural northwest of the nation, and had a chat with the mayor. He had the thought to arrange music workshops for native ladies, utilizing his personal devices so that they wouldn’t should pay. The mayor acquired on board, wrote a radio enchantment for volunteers, and supplied a rehearsal area. Eighteen ladies turned up exterior the city corridor.
4 years and a number of other serendipitous encounters later, a honed group of seven ladies (together with Balaguemon’s two daughters, Angélique on drums and Grâce Marina on keys) have been fashioned. Star Female Band’s debut album – recorded dwell in simply two days – sees them cross linguistic and stylistic borders, taking in native Waama rhythms, Congolese rumba, highlife and Sierra Leonean bubu. Exuberant songs are composed, written and organized by Balaguemon (“The ladies convey their concepts, however I do every part”) and unfold in a number of languages (Waama, Peul, Ditammari, Bariba, Fon, French), with ululations and call-and-response so good you’ll be able to’t not get in your toes. As 10-year-old Angélique places it: “After we play, everybody dances.”
If four-time Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo is Benin’s biggest star to this point, Star Female Band are its shiny future. That is no lazy contextualisation: these youngsters and their unstoppable band chief are taking on Kidjo’s baton as beacons of feminine empowerment, musical excellence and inextinguishable pleasure.
A lady band in Benin is by its very nature political. Since its post-independence Sixties heyday, native orchestras have been a central fixture of the Beninese music scene, with essentially the most well-known of all of them, the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, serving as Kidjo’s personal launchpad. However ladies, in the event that they had been concerned in any respect, had been solely ever singers and dancers. “Folks don’t like ladies to play devices right here,” Balaguemon says. A few of his proteges hadn’t ever seen keyboards or a drum package once they signed up.
Undeterred, he spent the primary two weeks educating them to clap to the beat. He taught them self-discipline, too: for those who couldn’t be punctual, you had been struck off the workforce. They now practise three college evenings per week and on Sundays, plus daily from 9 to 5 in the course of the holidays. Are rehearsals tough, I ask 13-year-old Grâce Marina. “They’re improbable!” she replies with a smile.
All of which solely goes a few of the technique to explaining their collective aplomb on stage. Bass participant Julienne Sayi is the epitome of indie cool; Angélique fronts their debut hit Peba like a boss; all seven of them sing and play, knocking advanced, shifting rhythmic patterns proper out of the park. “I don’t get stage fright,” says Julienne, “just a little nervous perhaps, however the worry disappears rapidly.” Sandrine Ouei says she loves being up there; Urrice Borikapei says it makes her really feel highly effective. Their devices are the kan’kare and the kanganmou – conventional drums you by no means usually see ladies taking part in.
For Balaguemon, beginning the band was about addressing “the best way males mistreat ladies”. Ever since he witnessed a person beating up his spouse as just a little boy, gender inequality and injustice has incensed him. “Ladies are usually not valued. Their rights are restricted; within the minds of males, ladies are restricted.” His countercultural feminism is steeped in his relationship along with his mom, which, he says, is extra akin to that which a daughter might need. “My mom is every part for me. And she or he loves this undertaking.” As does Edwige, his spouse – the “band’s mom”.
Balaguemon isn’t simply providing free musical tuition, however independence. Teen pregnancies are a hot-button challenge on this area and a woman’s schooling is often the very first thing to provide manner; job prospects for girls are additionally restricted. So he drew up contracts for every member (to be signed by a guardian and a witness) stipulating that she proceed along with her education and never be pressured into marriage. The band gained’t cease at commencement both. “Star Female Band is collectively for ever,” he says.
Grâce Marina hopes they’ll write songs about kids’s rights subsequent, and the lyrics all have this direct “do the appropriate factor” high quality to them (“Rise up! Stand tall! Don’t sleep! The world wants you!”). It’s pure cosmic poetry to listen to them chant in unison, “You may develop into president of the republic / You may develop into the nation’s prime minister” as Kamala Harris turns into the primary lady – of color, besides – to be elected to the US vice-presidency.
In March, Kidjo informed a United Nations’ Worldwide Ladies’s Day viewers: “So long as we keep on the extent of speaking, simply speaking, we gained’t get nowhere. If we would like gender equality, we’ve got to cease speaking, and begin appearing.” She won’t but know their names, however her countrywomen Sandrine, Urrice, Grâce Marina, Angélique, Anne Sayi, Inès Bio and Julienne are placing within the hours.
• Star Female Band’s self-titled debut album is out now on Born Unhealthy Information.