Last night, our choir, Les Voix De Lafi, had a concert. The headliner was Patrick Kabré, a Burkinabè musician, who is also known as “Silmandé”, and who has a charitable group called Atelier Silmandé. The concert was in aid of this group. The Atelier Silmandé gives cultural and environmental education to poor children, both in the cities of Burkina and in the refugee camps in the north. Originally, I think, it was for street kids and then later, when the war in Mali and Niger got hot and people began fleeing, Atelier Silmandé began working in the camps. There are some 100,000 refugees in the country, most living in refugee camps along the Mali border but plenty on the streets of Ouaga as well. There is a good deal of discrimination against them, particularly the Tuareg, who are relatively fair-skinned. Everybody seems to think they look shifty, perhaps because of category mismatch in Burkinabè cultural attitudes : fair-skinned people are not supposed to be destitute.
The choir has been practicing a variety of songs, some religious and some secular, for months now. Our biggest challenge, believe it or not, was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, from the Lion King soundtrack. We tenors have a little solo towards the end and we were screwing it up every time in rehearsal. Our fearless leader, Cynthia Young, was just about ready to pack it in and take the song off the program yesterday afternoon at our pre-concert warm up, but somehow we got it all together for the actual performance.
The big hit of the evening was the choir of young people from the Ouaga Atelier Silmandè. Here they are, singing a rousing Aleluia chorus
Cute kids, sweet voices, well-trained. This was their first public performance but they sounded pretty polished for an amateur children’s choir. Patrick and Cynthia trained them well.
Cynthia trained us well, it should be said. Here we all are, the kids as well, singing a Unitarian hymn “Draw the Circle Wide”
That’s Patrick Kabré next to me in the shocking pink shirt. On the far right in the purple dress is Zakira, a pretty well-known singer here. There are a number of really good singers in the choir; the guy standing next to me, in the brown shirt, has a great voice and is always on the right note, making it really easy for me.
I have to say, the experience of singing with the Voix de Lafi has gotten me back into singing. For quite a while, I was pretty much over singing in choirs. But Cynthia is a good teacher and very encouraging. She knows what to say to make us work better together. I never felt pressured but I did feel encouraged and empowered to be the best singer I could be. It was a lot of fun.
The Youngs are going off on home leave – at the right time of year, it should be added, given that the average daily high temperature in April and May here is over 100 F. They will be back in late May and we will have a concert the end of June, just before I leave Burkina. So a pleasant wrap-up to a good year in culture.
In other news, Tigard-Tualatin school district kindly sent out a notice, required by Oregon law, informing us of the immunization rates among students at my kids’ schools. I am happy to report that at both Tualatin High School and Twality Middle School, immunization rates are well above the 96% threshold for “herd immunity”, and at Tualatin High, less than one percent of students have “non-medical exemptions” to immunization. There has been a lot of talk about this, because of the big measles outbreak last year. Measles is a very highly communicable disease, which killed millions when it first appeared in the Americas in the 17th century. It is less well-known as a killer than its cousin Ebola, but it is also a hemorrhagic fever that can cause serious illness or death, and does so much more frequently than Ebola. And it is is a heck of a lot easier to catch than Ebola. Luckily, we have a vaccine. Some foolish people were asserting their “right” to refuse to get their children immunized, either because they believed that the pharmaceutical companies were padding their profits by pushing snake oil or because they didn’t want the gummint telling them what to do (there are left-wing and right-wing anti-vaxxers). States with libertarian political climates, like Oregon, had made it easy for these folks by allowing people to simply sign a paper stating a philosophical objection to immunization and then their kids could attend school. Unfortunately, it is not only your kids who are at risk serious illness if you refuse to immunize them. There are immunologically challenged people – with immune deficiency diseases, for example – who can’t be immunized. And the immunizations provide an unpredictable range of protection, so even if you’ve had your shots you may not be entirely protected. So in order to protect everybody, everybody needs to be immunized. If you work in Africa, you know about this because the diseases that people are protected against cause enormous hardship here. You see beggars all the time with withered limbs from polio. Kids die of measles, mumps, whooping cough, and so forth with distressing frequency, especially among the very poor. Thanks to aggressive immunization campaigns in the third world, the number of deaths each year from measles has fallen from 545,000 in 1990 to 96,000 in 2014. Ninety-six thousand dead kids is still a whole lot, though. Luckily, there are very few of the anti-vaxxer variety of entitled idiots among the parents of my children’s fellow-students.