On the back of Glastonbury, a team of young performers from northern Benin, in West Africa, took their message of female empowerment to another prestigious festival in England – the Womad World of Music, Arts and Dance.
Julienne, Grace, Bénie, Urrice, Angélique, Marguerite, Anne and Sandrine make up Star Feminine Band, a group formed in 2016 – back when their ages ranged from seven to 12 years.
Since then the girls, who are still teenagers, have written albums and performed all over the world.
“We started ‘Star Feminine Band’ thanks to Monsieur André Balaguemon, sitting here next to us,” two of the girls told RFI English.
“He was the one who launched a call on the radio to offer training to young girls. It was free, so we were interested, and we signed up. And we started training on 25 June 2016.”
“We didn’t know anything about music then … We were at zero,” she laughed. “We are very proud of André Balaguemon’s training.”
The project he set up was, from the start, to defend the rights of women and children, and to launch in the local music business a group of young girls who would empower themselves through their words, singing, dancing, and songwriting.
The music teacher taught them first traditional instruments, such as local ancestral drums, percussions and tam tam, then electric instruments, like the guitar and the bass, and the drum kit.
“He decided that it would be for girls to stand up and show that they have abilities.”
He and some other female teachers encouraged the girls to develop their own lyrics.
On this second album, they sing in English too, and have been invited to perform by Unicef in Benin.
“As a result we sing about the rights of women and we show that women have capacities and potentialities, that they can do what men can do.”
The girls were in Wiltshire at Womad for a day, where they sang for Radio Womad, gave a traditional dance workshop, and performed later on the Charlie Gillet Stage, only a few hours before reggae legend Horace Andy and Nigerian superstar Femi Kuti.
In July and August, they were touring Germany and France too.
“It is important for us to perform all over the world because it is not only in Africa that these problems exist. You find them everywhere, all over the world, including in France and Europe, everywhere really,” they told RFI English.
“Our songs are about standing up for women’s rights. Our messages reach many people and this has enabled many women to raise their voice and defend their rights.”