Roughly two weeks ago, a very special individual came to Durham, and I got the pleasure to meet and work very closely with him during his visit.
Ezé Wendtoin, a musical sociopolitical activist (‘artivist’), was born and raised in Burkina Faso, and is currently living his adult years predominantly in Germany. Ezé was invited to Durham University as a Musician Fellow for a few weeks, under the Modern Languages and Cultures Centre of the university, to be able to engage in important discussions with students and the Durham public. He covered topics surrounding racism, migration and topics around colonialism, through both his music and workshops, called: Making Music – Connecting Communities.
Ezé held a series of events across the span of two weeks, quickly forming friendships with everyone he meets, and instantly drawing in people from all communities. With performing to the public in Chester-le-street, hosting jam sessions in Gilesgate, and ultimately putting on a concert in collaboration with Durham University’s Palatinate Orchestra (DUPO), Ezé aimed to remind us that we all have a role to play in society: “accept each other.” His music and his attitude to life really showcase this message. I spent two transformative weeks getting to know Ezé and watching the way he connected with everyone around him. Every person he met was entranced by both his talents and his character.
The music that he creates fuses influences from both Burkina Faso and Germany, and his lyrics incorporate his connection to both places by having songs in German, French (the official language of Burkina Faso) and Mooré, the local language of his hometown Ougadougou. His songs, such as Say No! (Sage Nein!) and No Human is Illegal (Kein Mensch ist Illegal), cover serious social issues, but delivered in such a way to make you feel that change is in sight and not out of reach. Even if you cannot understand French, Mooré or German, you can feel both who he is and the message he is trying to deliver, all wrapped up in a song.
A large part of the Making Music – Connecting Communities project, was the amazing collaboration between Ezé and Durham University’s Palatinate Orchestra, in which Aysha Kojima, a 2nd Year Music Student at Durham, was selected to arrange orchestral music for two of Ezé’s new songs: Die Leiden des Schwarzen W. (The Sorrows of Black W.) and Abendland (Occident), which was then performed through a concert on November 4th. The unity of the two different musical styles and cultures was done so harmoniously through appreciating each other without changing one or the other. I would describe it to be a beautiful musical exchange. When asking Ezé to reflect on his time in Durham, he described that he did a lot of things for the first time. He was truly happy to see the initiative that the university is taking to shed light on important topics. As he embarks on more exciting projects, he encourages all of us who want to make a change, to begin and keep going.
Ezé’s time did not only connect us to him, but also connected us all to each other. I met an array of new people, both within the university and not, and had such meaningful conversations that will stay with me for many years to come. I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences that he provided through his music, but also his welcoming personality and genuine character. Someone I can proudly call a friend.
With Global Week Durham approaching in Epiphany Term, a documentary on Ezé’s time in Durham will be released around that time. For more information on the Making Music – Connecting Communities project, visit https://www.durham.ac.uk/departments/academic/modern-languages-cultures/making-music-connecting-communities/ or go to Ezé’s Instagram @eze_offiziell, to see the impact he makes across the world.
Image Credit: Gina Wrobel (top) and Ananya Nair (bottom)