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‘Star Feminine Band’ are Benin’s Bright Future

André Balaguemon has a flair for the trumpet and for getting things done. In 2016, this single-minded multi-instrumentalist from central Benin moved to Natitingou in the remote agricultural northwest of the country, and had a chat with the mayor. He had the idea to set up music workshops for local girls, using his own instruments so they wouldn’t have to pay. The mayor got on board, wrote a radio appeal for volunteers, and provided a rehearsal space. Eighteen girls turned up outside the town hall. Four years later, a honed group of seven girls (including Balaguemon’s two daughters, Angélique on drums and Grâce Marina on keys) have been formed. Star Feminine Band’s debut album – recorded live in just two days – sees them cross linguistic and stylistic borders, taking in local Waama rhythms, Congolese rumba, and highlife and Sierra Leonean bubu. Exuberant songs are composed, written and arranged by Balaguemon (“The girls bring their ideas, but I do everything”) and unfold in multiple languages (Waama, Peul, Ditammari, Bariba, Fon, French), with ululations and call-and-response so good you can’t not get on your feet. As 10-year-old Angélique puts it: “When we play, everyone dances.”