In a world of politics and politicking-- about never-ending Republican obstructionism, bridge hijinx, spying, drone warfare, relentless police brutality or the increasing stratification of mankind into winners and losers thanks to the global economy and the concentration of wealth that it encourages-- it is crucial to remember that there are still billions of individual human stories of worth and hope left to be told. And to remember that the telling is, itself, sometimes a political act.
This diary is about one of those stories, and is a request for your help and support in getting just one of those stories about an inspiring young man, Landry Assokoly, told to the world.
His different African Story.
Landry is an improbable character, if we go by all that we think we know about Africa. Africans definitely dance. Africans sing, sure. But Africans who sing opera? That's a marriage of concepts that, outside the world-famous context of South Africa and its Opera, most of us have a hard time fathoming as reality.
But Landry fathoms it. He not only fathoms it, he lives it. Even while he dreams.
His dream is a bold one: he wants to storm the world of classical music. Of Opera. In Europe.
Two independent filmmakers want to do their part to further his dreams and theirs as documentarians by sharing Landry's improbable story to the world through film.
The Tenor from Abidjan, which is currently in preproduction, is a documentary about a 24-year old man from the Ivory Coast that the director,Taneisha Berg, met in 2012 while in West Africa. As the video above notes, she originally thought she was hearing a song on the radio. She certainly did not contemplate the reality she soon discovered -- a young man, carrying a backpack walking down the street singing an aria.
Not your average day in a Ghanaian fishing village, any way you look at it.
Some are no doubt asking: what on earth does this have to do with the "mission of Daily Kos"? As a long-term Kossack, I know that the mission of the site is to do more than just pursue the goal of "more and better Democrats." It's also to build, in meatspace and online, a community of liberals. Leftists. Progressives. Building a community necessarily requires from time to time going out of the realm of politics into the realm of real life.
So why am I writing about this here, at Daily Kos? Well, in addition to wanting for this film to be made (and its Kickstarter to succeed so that can happen!), and hoping that Kossacks can help, I believe that the very act of trying to tell this story, and make this movie, is a political act.
Here’s a couple of my lines of reasoning:
First and foremost, this movie is about pushing back against the media politics of Africa. I don’t have to regale anyone here with the stereotypes. Yet combating stereotypes is done one person a at a time, one regular person at a time. In a world where even today everyone in Africa you read about in Western media is broke, poor, starving, diseased, irresponsible, troubled or corrupt as hell (other than Madiba, of course) stories like The Tenor from Abidjan remind us that the narrative we tell about “Africa” and “Africans” is convenient. And, thus, ignores individual African human lives, like Landry’s.
This story is also a political one about the power of the Internet to be an equalizer. The internet gives individuals who can access it the power to cut through barriers that otherwise might create a permanent veil between them and the resources necessary to achieve their dreams. The protagonist of The Tenor from Abidjan, Landry, has never had a day's classical training in his life. It is not clear whether there is any to be had in opera in Abidjan or anywhere else in the Ivory Coast. Yet he learns anyway: by downloading YouTube videos and practicing at home, studying the art form in the only way available to him. It is the great open medium, the internet, that allowed Landry to lay the foundation for his dreams in a way that he could not otherwise have done.
This is also a tale, indirectly, about the politics of race and immigration, as it relates to migrants from Africa. Working class African students don’t often get to study in European conservatories, after all. It is not just because this type of international artistics dream is not encouraged in young Africans in favor of the local and pragmatic. It is also because trying to pursue a quest like Landry’s runs full frontal into the xenophobic walls that immigration into European-majority countries have built against immigrants of African and other non-white descent. As noted in the film’s description, Landry’s life's dream is to travel to Europe and try out at various conservatories, hoping that one will accept him as a student and formally train him in the musical genre he so loves. Yet he has already applied for a travel visa to Europe once—and been denied by an immigration official simply because she “didn’t see he had a strong enough reason to go back home.” This is consistent with the way that the western world treats most Africans who seek to visit or study in our countries – it is assumed that abscondment is the default motivation.
Supporting the film and its Kickstarter effort is a political act because it will support a filmmaker who is an indy. Not just an indy, but a Black female indy. Black female directors are far and few between; Black female documentarians (like Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust) even rarer. Hollywood does not by and large give much love to those Black women behind the camera doing commercial vehicles, let alone those who are choosing to follow the non-fiction path out of love for human stories.
Finally, the politics of Kickstarter are, themselves, progressive in concept. The nifty thing about Kickstarter is that it relies upon crowd sourcing -- the more people who back your project, the more you can achieve. A person can, literally, donate $1 to a Kickstarter--and just by sharing that fact with his personal network, multiply the value of that donation exponentially. The number of supporters, and the continuity of support and blogging through the campaign, dramatically affects the likelihood of success. In other words, the more folks that support a project, the more likely it is for the wider world to support it.
Essentially, if one believes in the power of the grassroots, then at least (in theory) Kickstarter is the ultimate democratizer. If you have a concept that is valuable, the “market” (backers) will support it.
But in truth, Kickstarter, too, has its downsides. It relies extensively on social media (what many know I consider to be the playground of the young.) Its funding mechanism, which is dependent upon the Amazon payments system (concededly, not a leftist enterprise), further ensures that it is the young with money or wealthy backers who get funded much of the time: too many of us over a certain age are loath to part with any personal financial information over the Internet.
Kickstarter’s biggest downside, however, is that it is an all or nothing proposition. If a Kickstarter campaign fails to meet its stated goal in the allocated time, no matter how many backers and pledges, the project being Kickstarted gets bupkis.
Now you know why I am writing.
The Kickstarter for Tenor from Abidjan is off to a 1/2 way decent start, having reached 48% of its $22,500 goal in the first 8 days of the 30 day campaign. Unfortunately, donations and backers have dropped off in the past few days after an initial burst of enthusiasm. Thus, there is a very real risk of the Kickstarter failing after this first burst of enthusiasm unless we can get and keep the word out and keep backer momentum going. This type of broad public support is particularly important, because if the documentary gets and keeps a groundswell of support, Kickstarter will itself promote this project to its millions of followers, many of who might otherwise never see/hear of the film.
How can you help? There are lots and lots of ways:
Facebook: If you are on Facebook, the most important thing you can do to support the effort is to LIKE and FOLLOW the movie's Facebook and Kickstarter pages:
• Kickstarter: The Tenor from Abidjan: A Documentary
• Facebook: The Tenor from Abidjan: A Documentary
Once you have done that, please SHARE these pages with your circle of Facebook friends, and LIKE any facposts about the movie. Over and over again, statisticians who study online crowdsourcing have found that robust Facebook activity has a major impact on a Kickstarter project's success.
Twitter: If you are on Twitter, FOLLOW the film and those creative artists trying to get this story told:
• The movie (@africantenordoc)
• Director Taneisha Berg (@hotkamali)
• Producer Elaine Gibson (@Gibbyfilms)
Once you’ve followed, please take a minute to tweet a link to the movie's Facebook and/or Kickstarter pages to your Twitter network and, going forward, please consider retweeting any tweets about the movie, using the hashtag #thetenorfromabidjan
Connecting with Interested Bloggers/Supporters: If you know people who write in the online or print media (blogs, etc.) about Africa, Africans, classical music, opera music, or just plain old interesting life stories, making an introduction to the film’s crew so that their team can get story published/blogged and/or an article written would be extraordinary help.If you're not on social media, you can still help so much. You can send out a personal email or text message to your close contacts (friends/family) telling them about the project and your reasons why you think they should pledge and support the Kickstarter, and including the URL of the Facebook page and Kickstarter page in your email/text. This is extremely effective--networking through personal connections still goes a long, long way in this world.
Back the Project: Finally (you knew this was coming): If you can, please back this Kickstarter. It doesn't have to be a lot of money; quite the opposite. A person can donate a dollar. You can donate $5. $10. $15. $25. $50 or any larger amount you feel comfortable with. It's not all for naught—the film’s team has come up with some interesting and creative rewards for the film's backers (I want my name written in the sand on the Ivory Coast, myself!). As a reminder, you will not be actually charged for your backing unless the movie hits its Kickstart fundraising goal. If it doesn’t make it, the project gets nothing at all.
I will end as I began: asking for your support. As a personal act. Whether because you love classical music and/or opera. Or because you love Africa, and African stories. Hopeful immigrants. Or even just have a soft spot for underdogs. And as a political act. Your support for getting this movie made, including your financial support (yes, this is an area where $1 actually does make a difference) will go a long way to making it possible to tell Landry's hopefully successful #DifferentAfricanStory.