Opera beyond West: The Case of Bintou Wéré, a Sahel Opera

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


In relation to his “Europeras 1 & 2” John Cage allegedly announced: “For
two hundred years the Europeans have been sending us their operas. Now
I’m sending them back”. That way he limited his focus on binary position
regarding historical development of opera between European and North
American continent. However, the opera world develops beyond this
binary axis while opera studies only recently started to engage with more
passion and visibility with operatic ‘side-histories’ and developments.
After briefly mapping the context of ‘Opera beyond West’ I will discuss in
more detail the African opera Bintou Wéré, a Sahel Opera (2007, premiered
in Bamako, Mali) whose authors are Wasis Diop, Koulsy Lamko (libretto)
and Ze Manel (music). It is a story of a young pregnant woman who wants
to emigrate in order to provide better future for herself and for her unborn
child. Conceived as postcolonial project initiated by late prince Claus of
Holland, this opera continues its life through the film “An Opera of the
World” (2017) by Manthia Diawara. Diawara asserts that the opera serves
as a mirror to build an aesthetic and reflexive story, through song and
dance, about the current and yet timeless drama of emigration, and
refugee crises. An Opera of the World is a collage of past and present
archival footages of migrations, classic European arias and interviews with
European and African intellectuals, artists and social activists.
I will discuss questions such as: For whom is this opera made? What are the
intentions of its authors? What is an African operatic voice? How does the
media transition from the Sahel Opera to a film about the universal topic
of migration reinvents the opera itself? How does the film “An Opera of
the World” uses the context of African opera? I will illuminate those
perspectives while contextualizing both the opera and its cinematographic
successor beyond the binary horizon of the Western opera world, in an
attempt to better understand the opera world of Africa.
Period10 Sept 2023
Event title"African Operatic Voice": Opera and Music Theatre in Africa and the African Diaspora
Event typeConference
LocationBern, SwitzerlandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational