This Band is Spreading a Positive Message With Rhythm and Song

Improving people’s lives through music, one song at a time.

This Band is Spreading a Positive Message With Rhythm and Song | Improving people’s lives through music, one song at a time.

Gender equality is on the rise, reports Human Progress. Data from the World Bank’s 2021 on “Women, Business, and the Law,” shows significant improvement in equality from 1971 until 2021. Globally, women have many more rights now than they did in the past. 

This is great news for humanity. But there is still room for further progress, especially in some countries and regions that lag behind the global average in ensuring safety and equity for their female citizens.

Star Feminine Band, an all-female musical group in Benin, is confronting these issues head on, with rhythm and song. 

Son, husband, father and champion of women’s rights
NPR gives the background. André Balaguemon is a professional musician and a father of teenage daughters in Benin. During Balaguemon’s childhood, he witnessed a man beating his wife, an image that stuck with him. Balaguemon made a commitment to champion women’s rights. "My goal is to go to the ends of the earth to defend the rights of women and children," He explained.

As The Guardian reports, Balaguemon started teaching girls to play instruments in order to empower the women in his life- his mother, his wife, Edwige, and his daughters, two of whom are members of Star Feminine Band.

Beginning with the basics
Although, as NPR reports, Balaguemon lived in Benin’s capital, Cotonou, he chose to relocate to the more rural town of Natitingou. Because Natitingou was a place where, Balaguemon explained, “women's rights are not respected," there would be more opportunity to make an impact.

In Natitingou, Balaguemon reached out to the mayor to find a rehearsal space and promised free tuition to girls interested in learning to play music. According to the Guardian, 18 girls showed up. Most of them had never played an instrument before, due to ingrained cultural norms about women’s roles. “People don’t like girls to play instruments here,” said Balaguemon.

Fighting misogyny and inexperience, Balaguemon began with the basics. He taught the girls how to clap to the beat. Balaguemon instilled a sense of discipline in his pupils. They practiced several times a week, and whoever came late or didn’t show up was off the team.

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Balaguemon also worked to protect the rights of his young band members. He required the parents of girls he mentored to sign a contract stipulating their daughters wouldn’t be forced into marriage and would be free to pursue music or a career if they wished.

Star Feminine Band goes global
NPR reports that Balaguemon’s musical club soon grew into a popular band. Star Feminine Band released its first album in 2020, sharing music, mostly in French (Benin’s national language), that blended traditional Beninese music with rock and roll. Its members now sing in eight different languages, including six native African languages, in order to spread their message to a wider audience. Drummer, Angelique Balaguemon explained, “It’s to pass on our message to those who don’t understand French.”

The band has seven members. In addition to Angelique, 17-year-old Urrice Borkiapei and  Dorcas and Ouei, age 19 also play the drums. Anne Sayi, age 15, plays guitar and Julienne Sayi, age 17, plays bass.  Balaguemon’s other daughter, 14-year-old Grâce Marina plays the keyboard

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Star Feminine Band became an international sensation almost by chance. French trumpeter, Jérémie Verdier, was volunteering in Benin when he overheard the girls practicing. They invited him to join them in a local concert.

When Verdier returned to France, he hooked the band up with the Paris-based Born Bad record label. Since then, the group has released its album to an international audience, and played in France, Switzerland and Denmark. Now, Verdier teaches the band members English over Zoom, so they can communicate with fans.

Purposeful lyrics
Their unique founding story, and the fact that they are smashing through glass ceilings as a group of women playing instruments, isn’t Star Feminine Band’s only claim to fame though. The message of the songs played by the group relate to women’s rights and social issues.

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In one song, “Femme Africaine,” for example, the lyrics state, “You can become prime minister of the country. Get up, we have to do something. African women, be independent." 

In the song, “The Forced Marriage,” the band sings,  "Why impose a man on your daughter? African parents, think of us and our future."

The catchy tunes, alongside the plaintive lyrics, are sparking conversation and getting fans interested in women’s rights issues.  Beninese journalist Eric Azanney writes,  the interest in the music "shows that people who are closer to this scourge are better placed to talk about [these issues]. It grabs attention."

From the small village of Natitingou in Benin, to the greater world stage, Balaguemon and his girls won’t stop until they’ve spread their message about safety and equity for African women and girls to the entire world! 

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