The Tenor From Abidjan - Inspired Week


By Lisa Autz

Photo courtesy of Taneisha Berg.

Imagine we are all walking through life in a dream, like Richard Linklater’s independent, cult film Waking Life. Then, a character suddenly appears in our lives with the capability to transform our destiny.

Soaring above the waves of a small fishing village in Accra, Ghana was the powerful projections of opera, but instead of finding a radio at the end of this melodic rainbow, there was the tall, West African native, Landry Assokoly.

Taneisha Berg, an American documentary filmmaker, describes her discovery of Assokoly on her Kickstarter campaign which has recently achieved its goal funding of $25,000:

“Martial Landry Kouakou Assokoly Yao–Landry for short–fell out of my sky on a cloudy afternoon in a small fishing village outside of Accra, Ghana. I heard him before I saw him: who was listening to opera at 2pm on a weekday in the middle of the tropics? I asked myself. I hit the main road to see him him coming towards me singing in his powerful tenor voice. I chased down the road after him and breathlessly asked why he was singing opera. He laughed a little. Perhaps thrown off by my rude interruption, he answered simply, “Because I love it.”

The donations towards this campaign help support Berg’s documentary film on Assokoly’s uncharted path toward his dream of becoming a professional opera singer in Europe. She plans to juxtapose the Assokolys’ home life of a humble, middle-class family in West Africa to the transplanting image of him on stage auditioning in front of recognized opera vocalists.

Berg claims Assokoly’s is a “different African story,” and though it may make a post-colonial scholar squirm, it is a story based on an inspiring tale of determination and perseverance driven by a dream. An African story that, she claims, is not frequently told to the Western audience.

The 24-year-old who calls Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire or the Ivory Coast home, was busying himself with the studies of business administration and English while his fervor of the classical Western art form came resonating out of him. He has had no formal training or voice lessons yet there is something innate within him that is able to harmonize with that of an aria.

So, to much of his parents and family’s dismay, Assokoly has decided to leave behind the more predictable, reliable path for this personal aspiration.

Berg explains to Matthew DeMello of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BTR that Assokoly has had to fight with much of his family and friends to support him on this decision. And the hesitation may stem from the country’s very recent recovery after the end of a second civil war in 2011.

“It’s only been, let’s say, three years max since they regained any sort of stability,” says Berg. “So for them, I think part of it is absolutely trying to get something stable after all these years of instability, but also who knows how this is going to play out.”

One thing is for sure, Assokoly is able to prove to his family and friends that he has climbed one of the first hurdles in gaining financial and emotional support from Berg and 367 Kickstarter backers.

Some of the greatest obstacles still await as Assokoly applies for a visa to the Netherlands. Petty regulations prevent many young Africans from entering Europe if they find any inclination that the individual will have “no incentive to return” and therefore possibly expire their visa.

Assokoly’s struggle for support on a dream that does not incorporate a “concrete life path” was something Berg finds she can relate to in her own tribulations as a filmmaker. His tenacity and focused desire has ignited an ambitious spirit within Berg to develop the Kickstarter and create this documentary.

“I’ve become a believer in serendipity as a direct result of meeting this kid in a fishing village in Accra,” says Berg. “It’s insane to me how that happened because I was in a place in my creative path and also in my life where I was unsure what I wanted to do. He was certainly more sure of what he wanted to do and didn’t have the resources at that point to do it.”

Berg is in the process of pre-production with the self-taught opera singer to create a film that revives an aphoristic understanding that “Dream is Destiny.”

For more, check out this week’s Third Eye Weekly podcast on BTR.