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28.02.2005 - Two killed as Burkina Faso film festival opens
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Burkina Faso
Culture - Arts | Society

Burkina Faso's "crazy opera" is rising

Inauguration of works at the Laongo opera village, Burkina Faso

Aino Laberenz/Schlingensief/afrol News
afrol News, 19 October
- Even architect Dibdo Francis Kr "thought it was a joke" when he was commissioned to build an opera village in the Burkinabe countryside to host the African parallel of Germany's famous Bayreuth Festival. Not any more.

It is not the first time Mr Kr - born in Gando in Burkina Faso and studying architecture in Berlin - has followed and realised a crazy dream. In 1998, he founded an organisation seeking private German funds for the building of schools in Burkina Faso using local materials. A dozen of schools have already been inaugurated.

Since then, the Burkinabe architect has taken his success abroad, building schools in Yemen and India, and an international debate centre in Fuerteventura, Spain, in addition to office and conference buildings in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital.

But still, when Mr Kr met Christoph Schlingensief in January 2009, he first thought the proposals he was hearing went across the line of the possible. Mr Schlingensief was a famous German film and theatre director, actor and artist who had received a death sentence from his medics due to an advanced lung cancer diagnosis.

Mr Schlingensief had directed the Parsifal opera by Richard Wagner at the Bayreuth Festival from 2004 to 2007, and after receiving his diagnosis in 2008, he decided to create an African Bayreuth as his lasting legacy. Looking at possible location sites in Cameroon and Mozambique, he finally decided on Burkina Faso.

That is when Mr Kr ran into the German director and visionary. "When I was first confronted with the question of an opera house for Africa, I initially thought it was a joke. Such

Burkinabe architect Dibdo Francis Kr with German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul

Francis Kr/afrol News
a fantasy could only come from somebody who either doesn't know Africa, or who is so saturated that all he can think up is nonsense," the Burkinabe architect recalls from his first meeting with Mr Schlingensief.

But the two men soon found out that combining their two visions, an African Bayreuth could be viable and that Burkina Faso was indeed the right place. After all, Burkina Faso is already "the centre of African film and African theatre," as Mr Kr now points out.

The Burkinabe architect had a tough fight with Mr Schlingensief to get the African reality into the project, a recent interview with the German magazine 'Der Spiegel' reveals. A compromise was the result, where Mr Kr could use his experience in local involvement, using local materials and giving something back to the community. Building schools and providing culture education became key parts of the project.

Mr Schlingensief however had the last word in choosing the location. In flat Ouagadougou, where the Ministry of Culture already had provided several possible locations for free, the German found no inspiration.

In the village of Laongo 40 kilometres north-east of the capital, however, Mr Schlingensief found the magic hill he was looking for, surrounded by stone sculptures on a vast savannah plain. Just like in Bayreuth, the hill provided a natural stage for the opera.

Mr Kr sat down to draw the massi

Burkinabe film director Gaston Kabor and German film and theatre director Christoph Schlingensief

Siebbi/Wikipedia/afrol News
ve project. His plans included a festival theatre, workshops, a health station, guest houses, as well as solar panels and a well, a school for up to 500 children and teenagers with music and film classes. The Opera village "Remdoogo" was to accommodate both the wishes of picky cultural tourists from overseas and poor villagers - a difficult compromise skilfully elaborated by the Burkinabe architect.

His German colleague, reputed as a visionary motivator, managed to gather support for the project in Germany and Burkina Faso. The Burkinabe Ministry of Culture enthusiastically embraced the project, seeing it as "a great possibility" for the country to develop its image as a cultural tourism destination. Every possible support was given.

Equally important, Mr Schlingensief founded an organisation, "Festspielhaus Afrika", successfully raising funds for the project. Germany's President at the time Horst Khler, gave his support and signed an agreement with Burkinabe authorities to co-finance the opera. Money started flowing from the German Development Cooperation Ministry and the Goethe Institut. Media coverage in Germany produced more private donations.

In February this year, the construction works in Laongo started. Soon, the first modules started to pop up in a snail shell pattern, allowing for continuous expansion of the opera village.

As all seemed to go well, Mr Schlingensief d

Initial drawing of the Laongo opera village, with schools (blue), guesthouses (brown) and hospitals (yellow)

Francis Kr/afrol News
ied on 21 August this year. The great visionary, the primus movens and the high-profiled contact to German donors was gone.

His assistant, Christoph Knoch, now is heading the project, promising that everything will go according to plans despite the death of Mr Schlingensief. All partners had promised to stay onboard the giant project. Mr Kr still directs the works but admits that he now is more unsure about the future of the project.

The risks are of course great. The Laongo opera village, as any other large-scale cultural site, will need long-term support and donations to be viable. It needs enthusiastic leaders to secure not only donations, but also international artists and art quality. It needs knowledge and maintenance to accommodate international tourists. The loss of Mr Schlingensief could therefore prove vital.

But maybe Mr Kr is about to grow with the responsibility and new fame. For his Gando School, he was the first sub-Saharan African to win the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. This year, his Burkinabe schools gave him the highly dotted Swiss Architectural Award. Mr Kr, based in his Berlin studios, is frequently in the German media.

Meanwhile, the "Festspielhaus Afrika" organisation reports that funds keep streaming in, while construction works go on unabated in Burkina Faso. Only time will show what is the future of Africa's first opera village.

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