Tuesday, March 20, 2007


On 17 February, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Friso, Princess Mabel, Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands attended the world premiere of 'Bintou Were, a Sahel Opera' in Bamako, Mali. This musical spectacle was be held at an open-air theatre on the banks of the Niger. Prince Friso and Prince Constantijn. You may well wonder why the Prince and Princess were attending an opera performed in an open-air theatre in Mali; but the answer is simple. They are the Prince Claus Fund's honorary chairmen.

The Prince Claus Fund:
The Prince Claus Fund is a Netherlands foundation that aims at increasing cultural awareness and promoting exchange between culture and development. It also initiates and supports artistic and intellectual quality, creates platforms for debate and stimulates creative processes and artistic productions. The Prince Claus Fund is a platform for intercultural exchange and works jointly with individuals and organizations mainly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean on the realization of activities and publications reflecting a contemporary approach to the themes of culture and development.

Background to the concept:
The idea of a Sahel Opera came originally from His Royal Highness Prince Claus of the Netherlands who died in 2002. His idea was to create an African opera production composed and performed by people from the various Sahel countries. During the many years he lived and worked in Africa, the Prince developed a great love for the continent and he felt that the Sahel region in particular had a wealth of talent in the fields of dance, music, design and fashion. He envisaged an opera that would highlight all those talents. The Fund established in his name took up the challenge to initiate the project. The Sahel Opera illustrates beautifully many dimensions of the link between culture and development. The Sahel region covers Mauritania, Cape Verde, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

The title of the opera is "Bintou-Were, An Opera of the Sahel" and the story takes place in a village in the Sahel. According to the Libretto: In the village "[y]oung people are confused and have no hope in the future, trapped as they are by natural disaster, war and dictatorship. Weary of life in Africa, they decide to leave and try to breach the walls that separate the Sahel from Europe. Bintou-Were, a former child soldier, is expecting a 'love child'. She decides to cross the barricades protecting the borders of Morocco and Spain along with several other people she has met in her hectic life. If the perilous attack of the barbed wire of Melilla is successful, and the baby waits to be born on the other side, will there be a 'right of asylum' for all those claiming paternity of Bintou-Were's baby?"
In the drama of this story, all "social levels intersect in this modern day odyssey. Those on the road to exile encounter others who are returning." From the ethnic Fulani shepherd to the delinquent apprentice who has been jailed several times, from the woman who is following her husband to the enigmatic frontier runner who is the king pin of the puzzle they challenge one another in their songs.

A durable project:
The Prince Clause Fund says: "The Sahel Opera is more than simply a first-rate, spectacular performance, attended by many people in Africa and beyond; it is also a durable project with a lasting, though partly intangible influence. New talent has been scouted for the Opera and has received an international platform. The Opera has created direct employment and, once the project is finished, the people involved will have skills and experience that help them develop new collaborative relations in the region and beyond, a process of broadening intercultural exchange. Furthermore, the production has created a new infrastructure - both cultural and logistical - that will remain."

The Sahel Opera Project

The Prince Clause Fund

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