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Ivory Coast: the “crazy project” of a children’s philharmonic orchestra in a rural area

In the heart of the rural area of ​​northern Ivory Coast, far from the bustling metropolis of Abidjan, around a hundred children form a philharmonic orchestra, the first in the country: a " crazy project", most of them having never seen an instrument " its creation.

In a hubbub of chattering children, the music stands of the Odienné philharmonic orchestra are set up.

In the front row of the ensemble, in which balafons and djembes rub shoulders with European instruments, Leïla Coulibaly, 9 years old, patiently tunes her violin.

“I want to be a professional musician because orchestra changed my life,” she told AFP.

Every day after school, 139 children aged 6 to 16 are picked up from their homes by a minibus and play for 2.5 hours supervised by around ten teachers in a hotel .

“A crazy project” in a region like this, estimates conductor Fabrice Koffi.

– Rural territory –

Ivory Coast: the “crazy project” of a children’s philharmonic orchestra in a rural area

Members of the Odienné philarmony, in Ivory Coast, May 21, 2024 © AFP – Sia KAMBOU

The economy of Odienné, a town of 86,000 inhabitants, is based on agriculture, which sometimes employs children.

In 35 degree weather, Siaka Sy Savané, 15 years old and trombonist in the orchestra, sits behind the shaded stalls of a market. Since dawn, he has been conscientiously selling cereals.

From dawn “from Monday to Friday, I come to help my mother at the market. Saturday and Sunday, I go with my big brother in the field,” he says. “When I sing the music of the orchestra, I no longer feel tired, it motivates me”.

“Since I was little I have dreamed of being a musician” and “today, my dream comes true”, he rejoices.

In August 2023, almost a year after starting music, the children played in front of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of the country's independence.

If they let out a few wrong notes, they all easily interpret the “March of the Priests”, an extract from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, or the “Hammer Blow” from Tamsir, a hit from the African Cup of Nations (CAN) football 2024.

They also gave a concert during the closing ceremony of the CAN won by Côte d'Ivoire.< /p>

“I enjoyed playing in front of all these people,” confides Leïla Coulibaly. “I was too scared” but “I regained confidence in myself” and “I was very happy”, she remembers.

Inspired by the concept Venezuelan El Sistema – a musical accompaniment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds -, the orchestra was created at the initiative of the Minister of Employment and Social Protection, Adama Kamara, who personally and entirely finances it.

– “Convince” the parents –

Ivory Coast: the “crazy project” of a children’s philharmonic orchestra in a rural area

Conductor Fabrice Koffi during rehearsals of the Odienné philharmonie, Ivory Coast, May 21, 2024 © AFP – Sia KAMBOU

The conductor, Fabrice Koffi, watches over each student since the first rehearsals.

“We do the opposite of what a traditional orchestra does,” he explains. If an ensemble is usually “the gathering of all the best” musicians, that of Odienné taught the children basics, such as “music theory” and “playing techniques”, he says.

In addition, the “pedagogy” is “collective, unlike conservatories” which give priority to private lessons, notes Jean Caleb Kouadio, trumpet teacher.

A pedagogy also intended for parents, because the idea of ​​an orchestra has more than once clashed with conservative families.

” At the beginning, the parents were frankly reluctant,” recalls Abdramane Doucouré, intermediary between the families and the orchestra. “Some said that music does not go with the Muslim religion”, the majority in the region.

Sarata Kanté, trumpeter at the dawn of adolescence, has her -even had to convince his parents.

Ivory Coast: the “crazy project” of a children’s philharmonic orchestra in a rural area

Members of the Odienné philarmony, in Ivory Coast, May 21, 2024 © AFP – Sia KAMBOU

“She insisted for several weeks” on playing in the orchestra, explains her mother, Mawa Keïta. “It wasn’t my ambition, my vision for her,” says her father, Ousmane Kanté, fearing “that she would be too distracted.” “School is serious”, he affirms.

It is not a question of “taking children out of school” to make them musicians “, assures Fabrice Koffi, who, when younger, also had to stand up to his parents to become a flautist. “On the contrary, music” offers “the potential to excel at school”, he believes.

Moreover, Sarata's academic results have improved. From now on, she dreams of being a “veterinarian”.

Faced with an often uncertain future in a country where poverty and unemployment strike young people, Deborah Bodo Israel, viola teacher , continues to marvel: “what’s happening is magical.”

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116