by Vince Hunt, interviewer for The Ballad of Africa
One of the biggest problems in the making of The Ballad of Africa was which stories to leave out. It's a continent of more than fifty countries, all with vastly different histories, fortunes and traditions. So we chose themes that would allow people to tell their stories and to have an opinion.
Our small production team felt passionately that our stories should be positive and reflect the thoughts of a wide cross-section of African society, from decision-makers to those who do the work. But in making Ballads like this, we don't value one opinion above another. In our Ballads, all opinions are equal.
So you'll find coffee farmers, township rappers, musicians, bass players, chocolate makers and yes, politicians, health professionals and journalists telling their stories and the one thing that unites them is their passion for Africa.
The Ballad of Africa is a gathering of nuggets of their thoughts from hours of engaging and thoughtful conversation on a wide range of issues – the nature of independence and freedom, reflections on the past, prospects for the future. Some contributions come from Nigerians, Congolese and Sierra Leoneans living in England, most were gathered on location in Africa, a dream of a reporting journey.
The one subject that united all Africans interviewed for this Ballad was their passion for the continent, regardless of the hard times there have been. Africans care deeply about making the future better than the past, and they believe that finally they have that chance.
These conversations were painstakingly grouped into themes by interview editor Annie Grundy and given a musical setting and context by Ballad producer Kellie While.
Music is the heartbeat that unites Africa and the stack of CDs Kellie scoured for just the right piece of music grew larger by the week.
There's also music specially commissioned for this Ballad: a beautiful song on the traditional Rwandan harp, the inanga, by Sophie Nzayisenga, the last female master of this instrument.
And in a nice link back to the original Ballad makers, Kellie commissioned Cameroonian musician Muntu Valdo to re-work Ewan MacColl's haunting song 'The Ballad of Sharpeville'. The strict definition of a Radio Ballad though is one where songwriters write new songs from the interviews gathered, so this is a new kind of hybrid Ballad for us, as we have used existing songs by African artists for our soundtrack.
What can't be argued over though is the power of the stories. Joe Thloloe's description of the lead-up to the Sharpeville massacre was unexpected. I knew he was a veteran journalist, but hadn't expected him to launch into an eye-witness account. Rwandan senator Aloisea Inyumba spoke so calmly about the aftermath of the genocide, and how they declared the country dead shortly afterwards so they could start again. Africa... it was made for ballads. As Cape Town rapper Teba Shumba said, it's history really is 'a struggle in paradise'. The stories are so profoundly extreme.
Freedom is one of the key themes of this Ballad; freedom from slavery, colonialism, freedom to do what you want, to go where you want to go. Those paths haven't always been successful, but half a century offers a moment for the continent to take stock and reflect.
In Ethiopia, people talked about the diaspora and how many youngsters had gone abroad, a kind of brain-drain: South Africans felt the Rainbow Nation had fallen short of the dream it once offered. Important words were said about the changing role of women in African societies, how education could change Africa and the crucial role that training and skills has to play for the next generation.
But the one subject that united all Africans interviewed for this Ballad was their passion for the continent, regardless of the hard times there have been. Africans care deeply about making the future better than the past, and they believe that finally they have that chance.
The Ballad of Africa production team
Producer: Kellie While
Interviewer: Vince Hunt
Tape editor: Annie Grundy
Executive producer: John Leonard
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