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Music Unites by Moussa Dembele (UK/Burkina Faso)

In line with the World Citizen Artists’ ethos, happiness is a key word for me. As a skilled craftsman of instruments, a musician, a teacher and a carnival costume maker, experiencing and providing happiness is an important aspect of my work. Anytime I’m playing music it makes me happy and I want people to feel that same happiness. When I see people not moving, I will find a different way of playing the music, and make sure we get somewhere in the music to get connecting.

Born in Burkina Faso and without the presence of my parents, I taught myself to speak, read and write and now speak seven different languages. I was born into a Griot family, a family of West African storytellers, craftsmen and musicians.

We don’t choose to learn music but instead we are born into it.

Even at one years old you are just playing on whatever’s in front of you, you don’t even know what you’re doing but you’re definitely going to start banging on everything everywhere!

With a mother from Mali and a father from Burkina Faso, I didn’t know my parents and was brought up by other members of my parents’ families. Despite being brought up in a Griot family, I would describe my upbringing as restrictive, one that prevented me from listening, celebrating and dancing to music.

At age eleven I began to travel away from my village in order to discover more about music. This was a turning point in my life as I realised that as I was growing, the music was in me. Later, I moved to Ghana to play as part of the Pan-African Orchestra, it was there where I discovered that I could venture further with music.

For me, a key part of playing West African instruments is the actual making of them: if I like it, I play it. I’m going to learn how to build it. I craft and play Balafons, Koras, Djembe drums, and Ngonis with each instrument taking 1-3 weeks to make in a dry environment, depending on the instrument. I use dry woods, fishing wires and goat or cow skin to construct the instruments. For the Kora and Ngoni, I use a calabash which is like a big pumpkin in order to make the base. You have to be precise with a strong attention to detail whilst crafting and tuning these instruments.

Connection and happiness in music is what brings me joy, it is this ethos which plays a role in a broader humanitarian context.

Anytime I’m playing, I think the energy of my past reappears in the music as a happiness to me, like a release. My past is a huge part of what I play and perform – I always use it to create happiness, it’s just keeps coming back as happiness. I play a range of different styles from Jazz and Blues with my band Koroleko, to traditional West African songs as well as some club music. I equally enjoy teaching music, where I believe that in doing so I can create a nice connection between people.

My ideas about connection through music suggest a broader belief in people uniting in multiple different contexts – whoever or wherever they are.

It is a struggle to be a musician in the music industry, an industry which all depends on money. Sometimes I want to let go of performing: you want to make people happy as well as wanting to be there for people. However, you don’t have any power to be there so you always have to wait for people to say we want you. I am a musician, craftsman and teacher who places a focus on providing my audience with joy and unity. It is this that keeps me going in the industry and providing my audience with uplifting and heartfelt music.


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