The girls of Star Feminine Band were brought up and live in Natitingou, a remote town in the north of Benin, West Africa. Aged between 10 and 17 years, the girls had never touched a guitar or drumkit before they met in 2016.
Their debut album is released on November 13th through Parisian label Born Bad Records and Their debut single Peba is out now – calling on leaders to recognise the need and duty to educate girls and empower them. Music in Benin is almost entirely dominated by men and girl bands are virtually unheard of. It’s especially unusual to see young girls playing their own instruments. Women in the region have few prospects for meaningful employment (bar peanut and banana selling). Forced marriages and teenage pregnancies are common.
Their music blends Ghanaian highlife, Congolese rumba, local voodoo (vodun) and sato from Benin, creating their own style of garage rock. Themes and personal struggles about equality, empowerment and FGM, are a focus in the band’s songs, sung in French and local languages (Waama and Ditamari).
The girls in the band came together as a response to a local radio station call out, which invited girls to take part in a series of free music training sessions. Previous experience was not necessary. Organised by Andrè Balaguemon, the radio station was soon inundated by requests. Five girls of the Waama and Nabo ethnic groups, from the surrounding villages, were selected, along with two of Andrè’s own daughters, Angelique and Grace, who joined the group.
Their next single La Musique is out next week (29/10)
The new recruits began a journey of intense musical training led by Andrè, rehearsing three times a week after school, and all day during school holidays. Starting with drum workshops, they soon progressed to guitars, bass, and keyboards, each girl mastering all the different instruments. Star Feminine Band began playing shows at the local town hall, with Sandrine (17) and Grace (13) on keyboards and vocals, Julienne (15) on bass, Anne (14) on guitar, and Angelique (10) and Urrice (15) on drums and vocals, assisted by Marguerite (14), the third drummer.
It wasn’t long before the proud Mayor of Natitingou had designated a practice space for the girls in the town. French engineer Jérémie Verdier stumbled across one of their rehearsals in 2018, during a volunteering trip to Benin. By then the band had been together for two years, and had performed dozens of shows around the region, drawing ever-increasing crowds. Once he left Benin he came into contact with Spanish sound engineers and videographers, Juan Toran and Juan Serra, who were fascinated by the story of the young musicians shaking up the music scene in northern Benin. they soon travelled to Natitingou to record them. The tapes soon ended up with French label Born Bad Records and the deal for Star Feminine Band’s first record was sealed.
Also on the album, Femme Africain encourages African women to be strong, show off their skills, and demand a place in society; Ditamari song Timtilu gets girls to consider their culture; Rew Be Me, sung in Peul, is an ode to women, and an encouragement for them to succeed; Bariba song Iseo talks about the need for the diverse people and cultures of Benin to come together.
“Women have to make music because it enables them to be emancipated from men” agrees Urrice, the band’s 15-year old percussionist and singer. “I want to be a famous drummer,” she adds, “known in the whole world.”
In just two years – and with the help of a Frenchman Jérémie Verdier, working locally at the time – their singles and album were recorded and are for the world to be enjoyed.
The Line Up
Angélique Balaguemon // Drums & Vocals Age 10
Julienne Sayi // Bass guitar Age 15
Marguerite Kpetekoute // Drums Age 14
Grâce Marina Balaguemon // Keyboard &
Vocals Age 13
Anne Sayi // Electric Guitar Age 14
Urrice Borikapei // Percussion & Vocals Age 15
Sandrine Ouei // Keyboard Age 17