Stealing the show

by Sahar Mechri Kharrat

Someone else's paradise (Issue IV/2019)

“I would probably be a complete other person, if I wasn’t part of my music club. Almost without me noticing, it has changed my view of the world,” said Waladdine Maâlaoui. The school pupil plays guitar and has been the spokesman for his music club in the Tunis region for the past three years. Like many clubs across Tunisia, his club is part of the cultural initiative Tunisia88, which has already who has already inspired many pupils throughout the country to take up music.

The principle is simple: At Tunisia88, world-class musicians give concerts at schools. For many young people in rural areas it is the first time that they hear classical music or see a cello. Like Waladdine Maâlaoui, many in the audience feel inspired to set up music groups at their schools, compose their own songs or sing in choirs.

Each music club organises itself, but gets a little help in getting started: a speaker is chosen who is then trained in event organisation and communication. The 15 to 18-year olds learn skills which they can also use beyond the music clubs. The clubs then take responsibility for organising concerts to spread their joy in music, taking to those who have little access to it. They often perform in orphanages, hospitals and prisons.

For Waladdine Maâlaoui, the experiences he gained in his music club were critical: "I have developed more self-confidence and thanks to our performances I am no longer nervous when I speak to an audience. My encounters with different people have had a great influence on me. Creating music together creates solidarity," the student explained. Kimball Gallagher, pianist and globetrotter, had the idea for this large-scale cultural initiative three years ago. He is convinced that music creates an awareness of diversity. He called the project "Tunisia88" after the 88 keys on a piano. The initiative receives financial support from the Institute of European Development.

Tunisia88 brings together young people from sometimes remote regions. Many of the music clubs organise concerts or visit each others performances and sing together. This narrows the wide gaps which are all too common among Tunisia’s neighbouring rural regions.

Ghofrane Bouzaeïne was deeply affected by her experience with the project. Currently in her first year of preparation at El Manar University, she likes to look back on her years at Tunisia88. "I have always been a zealous but shy student. I didn't want to be distracted by anything, but to get good marks." A teacher recognized her poetic talent and encouraged Bouzaeïne to become active in a music club in the Oued Ellil region. "At first I was a little insecure, but everyone encouraged me to recite my poem. It expresses the hopes of the Tunisian revolution. For me it was the beginning of an incredible journey. Once I even performed in front of 5,000 people!"

Bouzaeïne is keen to continue with poetry. "The experiences of the performances were very emotional for me and awakened my inner vocation. Now I feel ready to face the challenges of the professional world, and I know that I can do anything if I network with others," says the young poet.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to change a life. Just one performance can suffice.

Translated from French by Claudia Kotte

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