#1 Africa Through My Own Eye
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Prices are roughly one-fifth of those in Japan. When I first arrived, I was quite surprised at how poorly people lived. Guided by fate, I decided to work on creating an opera here. Opera is not yet known in this country. Opera is a comprehensive art, and requires score writing and composition, direction, stage art creation, performers, singers, instrumentalists, and in some cases, actors and dancers. So, no matter how poor the country is, the cost amounts to a lot. From the beginning I applied for various subsidies, submitted project proposals, and asked several institutions for their cooperation. So far, in only one case, very recently, was I accepted. In general, with such an application, it is necessary to convince the judges by properly writing the outline and purpose of the project, the implementation period and budget, and showing the social effect of the implementation. "I'm excited and looking forward to seeing what will come about in the midst of trial and error." "Please bet on such a project!"- I can't say this. When I came to Burkina Faso, alone in 2019, I didn't know a thing. I couldn't speak the official language of French; all I had was passion and the confidence that I would somehow manage. To begin with, my initial mission was to find someone to write the script. I basically intended to compose music myself, so I was willing to take every opportunity to learn local music. At this stage, it was natural that I could not present a convincing proposal, and it is no wonder that although I applied, it was not accepted. First of all, I deepened my relationships, as human beings, with the local people who asked "What is opera?" And while feeling their everyday needs and thoughts, I tried, little by little, to bring understanding to the people, as to why and for what reason I was there. Making an opera in Burkina Faso was my dream, but in order to find friends who would share that dream from the bottom of their heart and realize a true collaboration, I had to develop the project without rushing nor giving up, but at a steady and thoughtful pace. At that time, I didn't have a smart phone. I hadn't had one since I was in Japan. I think I didn't believe in anything other than human beings "really" meeting and interacting eye-to-eye. Now that idea is changing little by little. But that's why the early members of this project were the ones I met in person in different parts of Burkina Faso.
#2 Original Members – Griot
The first people to join me were people from a family called griot, who inherited traditional performing arts. Among them, the three Griots in their late 20s and 30s formed a band with me. They are all people who have zero savings and literally live day-by-day. It's not because they are lazy. In Burkina Faso, the majority live in that way and desperately support their families. The family is not a nuclear unit, but a more extensive structure, with grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc, and all of them help each other and live while dealing with unforeseen circumstances that occur one after another. It's easy to see that for those who can earn money, it's impossible to save it, because the requests for support arrive endlessly. Here, the birth rate is high, but people die one after another. Even in the family that I live with, about once every two weeks, a relative or someone from their hometown dies, and most of the deaths are younger than I am. There are many traffic accidents in urban areas also. For burial, men of the dead relative go to the graveyard, find a vacant space, dig a hole, and bury the deceased. The funeral is a tough event, although it's just a lot of people gathering to eat, drink and talk endlessly, but it takes days, and it's so frequent that I start thinking that the living live to mourn the dead. Burkina Faso is a country where only a few tourists come, but due to the influence of the Covid-19 virus, the opportunities for the people of Burkina Faso to travel to neighboring countries and perform have been cancelled one after another, and throughout the time of lockdown in the first half of 2020, ceremonial occasions such as weddings, etc, were also banned. At this point the griots were on the verge of starvation. As I mentioned earlier, griots are people of a family that are a little like Japanese musicians and Iemoto and inherit traditional performing arts. Originally, they performed at various ceremonies in the form of serving the chief of each tribe. However, when Islam and Christianity became widespread and many of the chieftains converted to those religions, they suddenly lost their performance opportunities. The current situation is that they perform at ceremonial occasions for the citizens and at the events such as New Year and holidays, eking out a living this way. They also try to send their children to school, to get other, more stable jobs, which wasn't possible before. It can be said that this is a matter of course, but if that happens, the level of performing arts of the next generation will inevitably drop. On the other hand, music such as reggae has become popular, and more and more people other than griots, and even among griots, play foreign musical instruments such as guitars, basses, and keyboards. The music genre is also divided into such categories as modern, traditional, and tradi-modern, which is a mixture of the contrasts. Tradi-modern is recommended, expected, and becoming popular as a way for traditional music to evolve its form, in order to survive. The opera I'm making is exactly this tradi-modern.
#3 The Original Novel Written by a Congolese Rapper
The original story of this opera is the story of political asylum in an African country, a son who travels the world but cannot return to his homeland to see his mother. The son writes a letter to his mother, but it's not a regular letter, it's a poem. There are many documents and stories, written by Westerners, about the current situation and history of Africa. It is no exaggeration to say that the knowledge and information about Africa presented by people in other parts of the world is mostly fabricated. However, I decided to make this opera a work in which Africans talk about themselves from their own perspective, although it has never been particularly easy. This is because there are few people, not only in Africa but everywhere in general, who can speak about themselves in their own words, rather than the enumeration of words that they have heard elsewhere, or the quotations of their predecessors. In addition, Africa has language issues. The language of the former colonial suzerain is still dominant as the official language. Can Africans really speak for themselves in an enforced language formed in a completely different climate and land? The first question is this. Language has been uniquely cultivated in every climate and land, over countless periods of time, and is inseparably linked to the lifestyles and unique cultures connected to our ancestors. Thus, it is the foundation of the consciousness. In Asian countries, resistance to language colonization was great, and Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia have made their languages official, after independence from France, but the situation is different in African countries. In that sense, it was a blessing that I met Moyi MBOURANGON. As the well known known rapper Martial Pa'nucci, he is very conscious of languages and says that he always thinks in his mother tongue, Lingala and translates it into French himself. At the same time, he is extremely open about translating his texts into other African languages and happily approves of it. You can imagine how grateful I am to have his attitude within my project, a multilingual opera, which is challenging but appropriate for reflecting the situation in West Africa. The story is his semi-autobiographical novel, which is still incomplete. Over a year ago, he told me that it was almost finished, but I haven't yet received notice of its completion. He told me the other day that it would be published by the end of 2021, but I'm not sure, because as yet, that's just a plan. Moyi is a rapper, a very modern profession, but he writes everything by hand. At the moment, only chapters 1 and 2 of the entire 12 are typed, and in my possession, but by the beginning of 2023, when we're aiming to complete the opera, we should have it in its finished form!
#4 Opera Without Written Sheet Music?!
The griots do not read or write music. It's understandable, because they basically improvise on various patterns, but it's a problem for me to share with them what I have composed. I have to explain everything by singing or playing on the instruments, and they repeat it from the first bar to the last bar, over and over again to remember it. Since they also use the same mode as the Japanese pentatonic, we have a lot in common with each other, but their perception of rhythm and melody are very different from the modern Western music I learned. This creates unexpected difficulties. Our musical languages are different and it took a while to get to used to each other. Anyway, it was from June to July 2020 that we continued practicing in the morning and evening, day after day, and recorded the first five songs. At that time, I lived quite far from their area, took a taxi every day, paid daily rehearsal fees to the three members of the band, paid them lunch, and paid all cost of the recordings, even the gasoline bills, with my personal money, so even though it was in low-priced Burkina Faso, I spent a lot. The rehearsals exceeded 90 in total, counting 2-3 hours as one session.
#5 CD Album Production / Publishing
One of my purposes at that time was to have everyone in my band get an Artist Card, and for that I had to produce and publish a CD album, officially registered by the local copyright association called the BBDA. Maboudou already had his Artist Card, but Ibrahim and Boureima did not, so they didn't get any copyright or neighbouring rights distribution, and no matter how good a musician they are, they were socially not recognized as musicians. I was planning, in particular, to make all the production processes in Burkina Faso, from recording to mastering the CD, designing to printing the cover and registering, and I did it, but it was a lot harder than I thought. Up until now, I have been working mainly in the Japanese classical music field, so unconsciously I expected the way I work, the pace, the degree of perfection and the level, etc... but nothing went as well as I expected here. The stress was unimaginable. BBDA is an institution equivalent to JASRAC in Japan. To register a CD album, all we had to do was create the documents required by them and fill out the forms, but we had to go back and forth countless times between their office and our home, which were quite far from each other. It took us three months to complete the whole process. The terms used in these kinds of documents are difficult to understand, even in our mother tongue, but since they are written in French, the official language, they are generally not easily understood by Burkina Faso people. The staff didn't explain it at all, they just told us to read the French description in the hallway and write it ourselves. All text on the form had to be handwritten with a ballpoint pen, and if you make a slight mistake, you were not allowed to use correction fluid or make corrections by drawing lines, and so had to start over. There are about ten pages of forms. Maboudou, who is the most fluent in reading and writing French in our band, finally submitted it after a total of 5 rewrites. Then we waited. However, since we had not been contacted for a long while after submission, we went to the office to inquire, and were told that the person in charge of the submission had lost the forms! This is just one example, and there were many other things that made me astonished and lost for words. My band's balaphonist, Boureima, has never attended school and can't even write his name. Even so, I had to ask him to sign by himself, but when I saw his signature, it looked like an illustration of an earthworm. There are many people like Boureima in Burkina Faso. If they can't read and write, they cannot even open a bank account. I noticed that Boureima felt uncomfortable just by stepping into a place like the BBDA. By the way, the people of Burkina Faso are generally warm and polite, but some of the people who work in cutting-edge workplaces such as the BBDA, banks, and airline offices look down on others and have a surprisingly arrogant attitude. Even if such people express terrible words, others rarely speak back, and instead just follow as instructed, this being the general attitude of the mild Burkina Faso people.
#6 First Performance - Goethe Institute (Ouagadougou)
It was on the day of our first presentation at the Goethe Institute Ouagadougou that we were finally able to put a BBDA approval sticker on the new CD. Maboudou and I put stickers on 50 CDs, put them in a transparent cover, and hurried to the venue. Boureima had already arrived and was practicing alone. He is always like that. He practices a lot by himself. However, I have never seen Maboudou or Ibrahim practicing by themselves. When I presented Boureima with a CD (necessary for his Artist Card application), he smiled and thanked me many times. At the time of the sound check, my microphone was not working, so I urgently requested that it be replaced. After I changed my dress and came back to the stage, Maboudou was wearing the microphone! "I didn't ask for that” I insisted, “please change it for another microphone!", but he soothed me, saying "but it's okay". This was a concert to commemorate the release of the CD, and although it was not an opera, it was a performance that was set to be a precursor to the opera, in the sense that we would perform five songs that would be important arias in the opera. Moyi made a guest appearance in the first half, read the first chapter of his novel with the band's accompaniment, and then read one of the letters to the mother in a slam poetry style, backed by our ensemble of drums called Bendre. (To this end, I made three new bendres with Maboudou and Ibrahim, and received special training from Maboudou. Moyi came to rehearsal twice and practiced with us.) In the second half, the band alone would play five songs in a row, and the footage taken by video artist Hervé Humbert, in various parts of Burkina Faso, that was edited and finished according to each song, was going to be projected on a screen behind us. However, it was difficult to pace the live performance with the video at that time because we were not accustomed enough to playing with each other. By the way, the performance fee paid by the Goethe Institute was 300 €. In addition to the three bendres, I also made uniforms for all the band members, so of course I was out of pocket. But from the time of preparation for this performance, I stopped paying rehearsal fees to each member. It took a little courage to say that, but I wanted everyone to take a step out of the passive state and change their mindset from "Keiko's project" to "our project." Of course, the plan to support griots economically, and to have them focus on ambitions to make high quality music remains the same. But many people in Burkina Faso simply believe that "Nasara (means white people, but Japanese and Chinese also included, meaning people whiter than themselves) have infinite money". "The one who catches Nasara wins!" and I wanted to change their belief to become real friends. By the way, Moyi, who said he would come one hour before the performance and check the sound, arrived three minutes before. In fact, he didn't memorize his poem, and after our bendre accompaniment started, he pulled out his phone from his pocket and scrolled to search for the poem! It took a while because his phone was not good... Moyi's turn was finally over, and in the second half we would go perfectly on our own! I thought, but when I suddenly noticed, I couldn't hear Maboudou's singing voice! When I tried to see what the sound engineer was doing, he came up to the stage where we were playing and started to replace the battery of Maboudou's microphone! Maboudou was doing his best to raise the volume of his voice, but to little effect. I was so upset and angry that my head went blank. We managed to finish all the songs, but then I suddenly noticed, while chatting with the people who came, that I couldn't see Boureima. Ibrahim explained in a whisper. "Actually, Boureima's mother died around noon today ..." He said he didn't tell Maboudou and me so as not to upset us.
#7 Opera Act 1 Premiere - Institut Français (Ouagadougou)
In fact, Maboudou was very upset when he heard the news and was stunned for a while. Maboudou and Boureima are cousins of the same age. In this scenario, African society does not call each other's mother an "aunt" but a "mother" also. She is not only considered mother by title, but also by consciousness and relationship, so it's no wonder Maboudou was so upset also. Two days later, we followed Boureima to the funeral in his hometown, but no one at that time imagined an even more disastrous death would impact the family. Patrick Hauguel, director of the Institut Françaisde Ouagadougou, showed interest in the opera project and offered me the opportunity to premiere it at the institute at the end of April. I promised to prepare the premiere of the first Act of the opera by then. I met him on the introduction of the Consul of the Japanese Embassy, he talked with me, and listened to our CD, checked my other operas on YouTube, and made this decision. In Japan, things are never arranged like this. I can't say enough with words how effective the efficiency of this case, of "meeting in January and deciding on a performance three months later", will promote artistic activities. All creative activities are the same as childbirth in the sense of producing. If you feel fetal movement, don't spend your time mischievously. Some works of art take years, sometimes decades, or even hundreds of years to complete. But it's not like accumulating the time you're making, just sitting down and devising a plan, and spending time writing a proposal. "Think while doing" "Try and fix" is art. Because art is a living thing! (In the case of Goethe-Institute director Carolin Christgau, it was also as quick as this. Hervé suggested Carolin organise a concert for us at a dinner in December, she immediately decided at the dinner table to make it in January.) Patrick also said "operas are unfamiliar locally and your music is good, but it's not popular music, so it's going to be difficult to attract people to come", so he hurriedly set up a three-day festival and positioned the opera premiere as part of that. Institut Français offered me 600 €. The subsidy that had been applied to the Japan Kakehashi Foundation was also adopted, and we were moving smoothly forward to the premiere of Act 1! One morning, Maboudou, who was talking to his younger brother in his hometown on the phone, told me with tremendous anxiety, "My younger brother's appearance is strange". I also felt that it was not a trivial matter, and immediately realised Maboudou's desire to visit his younger brother. As usual, he was moneyless and I knew that he couldn't procure the bus fare, so I gave him money and said, "Go to him soon," and he left on the same day. It's still a nightmare that Issa, the 19-year-old, the most talented and handsome young man in Lycée, died within just 10 days. Here, I won't go into the details of this matter, but I'm still not convinced that no matter how Africa is, life can be so fragile. Maboudou returned to Ouagadougou eight days later. I thought that it would not be easy for us to prepare for Act 1 in the little time we had left, with such a sense of loss. I was writing a new song, and the rehearsal started before Maboudou returned to his hometown, but for some reason this new song, which combines the Ryukyu scale and West African rhythms, seems to be more difficult than ever for them to practice. I think Moyi's text was also difficult. Also I had asked Maboudou for a new song, but was worried whether or not he could complete it. In fact, after the performance at the Goethe Institute, I was building a new house on the land belonging to Maboudou. It was a local, standard, extremely simple house, so it took just over a week to build, and the total cost was around 1000€. Until then, I had rented a house, but every time we rehearsed there, I was in trouble because of complaints from the neighbourhood. We installed solar panels on the roof of the new house to secure a power source for the electric piano (the area has not yet received electricity or water). It was good that we had an environment where we could rehearse without worrying. Since there was a new song this time, everyone agreed on the condition that I pay a total of 7 rehearsal fees and a separate performance fee, and if they cannot remember the song and need more than seven rehearsals, they would not be eligible for further payment. After all, we continued to rehearse in the morning and evening for more than a month every day except Saturday and Sunday, so more than 50 times. Around this time, I was short of money. After practicing, I used to invite everyone to a beer, but I switched to a local drink called Zomkoom. 3 beers + 1 Cola costs 3.5 €, but 4 Zomkoom costs 0.3 €, a big difference. Maboudou's relative, comedian Lamissa and Hervé's friend and dancer Nina came from France to participate in Act 1 of the opera. I really wanted to have one opera singer from Germany, one of the few black opera singers, Owen Metsileng from South Africa. When he came to Germany on a contract with the Lübeck Opera House, the lockdown began and he could not return, instead spending lonely days far away from his family. When he sang as the protagonist of an opera in October 2020 at the Lübeck Theatre, I went to see it with Hervé. His singing was great, but when I actually spoke with him, I was deeply moved by the fact that he was devoting himself to this Western art while still retaining the African soul. In the end, I had to give up on inviting him to Burkina Faso, not only because of finances, but also because it was extremely difficult to take care of issues such as a visa, corona test, and quarantine in such a short period of time.
#8 reading session
On 22nd November 2021, we had lunch together after the morning rehearsal and then had a reading session. After the terrorist attacks that have caused many casualties, the period of self-restraint for mourning has passed, and a cousin of our family who was in the troop which was attacked by the terrorists on 14th Sunday is still not found, but we hope he survives somewhere. Meanwhile, the French army was transporting a large number of large weapons such as tanks, and demonstrations to prevent them were unfolding along the route of transportation. Police have been dispatched to throw tear gas bullets at the citizens participating in the demonstration, but people continued to demonstrate enthusiastically and I have heard that a party of arms transportation was stuck in the city of Kaya on 20th Saturday. From that night, the public WiFi was cut off, and access to the Internet and mobile communication were stopped.
The harsh neo-colonial oppression by France is by no means new, but the mood of the people around me is clearly different from before. They can't stand this treatment forever. I feel like everyone is starting to think.
The implications of our opera project have naturally become clearer, and there is no change in aiming for musical newness and richness, but at the same time, to present some aspects of Africa today to people living in other parts of the world. For that purpose, there is a growing desire to understand the reality on many different levels and it is essential for us to know and understand things deeply, not fragmentarily, and in the meantime, we held a reading session to read Moi's autobiographical novel deeply.
Even though I call it a reading session, we did not read Moi's novel directly on that day. To explain the situation, the original is written in French, and it depicts the social situation from the colonial era of Africa to the present, with humor, sharply and from various angles. Various rhetoric is also used, and there are individual differences in the degree to which members understand it, and some members cannot read at all. Even Maboudou, who is the most fluent in French, says that he has some phrases and words that he doesn't understand. So I asked a young man who was a French teacher named Justin, who was also good at writing, to summarize Chapters 1 to 3. I thought it was quite a difficult task, but finally the part of Chapter 1 was completed. I had him read it aloud, and then explain it carefully in Bouamo. The 1st Act of the opera which is based on Chapter 1 has already premiered, but it makes a lot of sense for everyone to know the whole story. The women at home were also listening, and a big applause was given to Justin shortly after the reading. It was deeply emotional to hear at this time, as it includes anecdotes about how older generations responded to France during the colonial era.
Moi is in his early thirties and is of the same generation as our members. He moved to South Africa at the end of September for personal reasons, but he will be visiting Burkina Faso again and we are looking forward to seeing him again.