Music and Hybridity: On Childhood without Prejudices

Snow White was lying next to a Superman. And there were others as well, whose identity I could not categorise right away. The moment the music started, they were all alive: jumping, clapping, dancing to the rhythm of the African drum. The superman was 4 years old and the snow-white was 6. Kids wearing masquerade costumes were about to make their way into the kingdom of music. The kingdom doors were actually the starting point for re-thinking stereotypes: the self, the other and prejudices. How do we talk about it with kids?

When Alejandra Martin invited me to the “Yankadi” concert for kids, announcing that classical viola will perform in combination with the African drum (djembe) I was more than intrigued. How is it possible? But on the other hand, why am I asking myself such a questions at the first place? Who said, that it cannot? Questions like this appear when behind you is a heavy baggage of the culture that typically separates classic music and ethnic one. It generally isolates an academic approach to playing the music from the intuitional one that lives in communities where families play instruments spontaneously relying on the memory, ritual and tradition. Is it not too elitist to claim the purity of the first one and to marginalise the second one? Our society is stuffed with prejudices but who will dare to uncover and transgress them?

The very idea of mixing those two traditions fascinated me not only with its freshness but also with its courage. Proposed concert was actually for me an attempt to break through the stereotypical perception. Can a hybrid form of music be created? I also had a very private concern: will my little son be able to get it? How will he manage to digest classics on one hand and ritual music – on the other? Just a while ago our attempt to visit a classical concert was damned to fiasco: little boy was simply terrified by the necessity to sit in solemn silence, acquire static posture and remain calm. Well, this time it was all opposite.

The concert offered by Alejandra Martin and Ibou N’diaye was about freedom and transgressing banal rules of perception. The venue was not a typical concert hall but a cosy place called “Kulturecke El Hormiguero”. The scene… There was none! No dividing line between performers and the audience was present. Moreover, the audience was also actively involved in the co-creation of the meaning: singing, dancing, clapping and repeating the rhythm. Who said, you should sit still when you hear classics? German, English, French, Spanish and Russian languages (spoken by parents with their kids) were all absorbed by the language of music, liberating and comprehensible to everybody.

Viola was having her dialogue with djembe trying to prove that European and non-European traditions can mingle very well together taking the best from each other and creating something extremely beautiful.

Should we stay forever cocooned in our cultural norms and prejudices or should we get outside of our comfort zone and stretch a hand to the other? Other person, other worldview, other approach… The best genial ideas are usually born on the intersection. If you never implement change to the tradition, you will never put this tradition forward. The tradition will stagnate and no evolution will ever occur.

Bringing the classical music from its elite pedestal to the mundane public sounds pretty much revolutionary. Haydn and Lully meet ethnic chants from the Senegal – how do you like this? But who decided it cannot be this way? Are there any gatekeepers? In my dreams, I envision a big open-air concerts where people can dress up casually, bring their backpacks with them, sit comfortably on the ground… and listen to classics in a relaxed way! And not to forget: no age-limit! Impossible? Why? Is it not the one and only way to actually help the classics survive a new millennium and make its way to the souls of the new generation?

Discussing later with Alejandra her performance, we suddenly came both to the conclusion that, in fact, for children it might be much easier to perceive the fusion of musical forms because they do not know yet “how it should be” but they are open-minded enough and have sufficient imagination to envision “how it could be”. Music, as adds Alejandra, gives a possibility to learn from each other: Spanish performer – from the African one (and vice versa), public – from both musicians, but also musicians – from the children audience. This style of performance is characterized by Alejandra as “learning from the situation”: as a musician, you cannot foresee the way the public will react, so you need to stay open for any immediate response, for change of the plan, for the unexpected. But after all, creating the new meaning here and now together with young souls is a very liberating and rewarding process.

Bild von Yankadi
Bild von Mirjam Hager

The best part about Alejandra’s and Ibou’s performance was disguising. Little listeners were encouraged to take any masquerade costume from a suitcase and dress up not only themselves but also the musicians. I saw a little girl hesitantly approaching a suit of the superman but then suddenly changing her mind under the gaze of her mother.  Why can a girl not be a super…woman? Why should she be a snow white? What are those two images if not metaphors of patriarchy that leaves a woman no chance to try out different roles and men no possibility to experiment with their identity?  This little episode was a true revelation: our kids are not born with prejudices. They are not born with stereotypical thinking. But they might acquire this thinking later: specific family values, educational environment, cultural-settings, media – there are a lot of contributors to it.  It would be nice if we could put all our stereotypes and prejudices in an old suitcase and take them out only for the purpose of mocking them. Whether this task is achievable is for you to decide.

What we both learnt after this unusual concert with my son is that the world is an open space for the interplay of ideas. You can become anybody, as your identity is not fixed. But so is our tradition. So is our perception. There is nothing static. Do not be scared to change. Change your appearance. Learn from somebody totally different from you. Change your perception. Get out of your cultural cocoon. Be daring. Change your perception. Change your mind.

Video Trailer von Yankadi: Alejandra Martin und Ibou N’diaye

Stay tuned to Yankadi Project: there are more events coming soon!

Alejandra Martin is a viola player, pedagogue and music mediator, master student of HKB, the cofounder of Tramontana Trio and the author of children’s book “Staubi & Tim Tock”:

Ibou N’Diaye is a percussionist from Senegal. He comes from a griot family of storytellers, chant singers, poets,  musicians and transmitters of the oral tradition. Ibou teaches regularly djembe in his atelier in Bern and is asked to give workshops internationally. He made world tours with the Senegal ballet and founded the “Kiss group”. Ibou makes live-music to Afro-dance workshops in the University of Bern:

Über Anna Butan

Anna speaks French, German, English and Russian. She obtained a Master Degree at the University of Bern (Cultural Studies) and a Bachelor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (Philology). Anna has big interest in such themes as: identity, cultural hybridity, music, and raising children in multicultural context. She is convinced that our children can teach us a lot. They are not born with stereotypes but they risk to acquire them later under external circumstances. Our task as parents is to help them grow as conscious and culture-aware humans.

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