World Music School In Grand-Popo

What kind of expectations did you have before coming to Villa Karo?

Already about three years ago, a friend of mine suggested me that I should apply for Villa Karo. As I don’t yet know Finnish very well, I couldn’t read so much material beforehand, so my first impressions of Villa Karo were much based on photos.

I had some mental pictures of it, which we all usually do: regarding Villa Karo and its surroundings, I was expecting a much simpler house, not so well designed and more of a deserted place. I have traveled before in similar places in remote fishing areas, so I was prepared for the sort of creepy villages and smelly muddy beaches. And yes, I was expecting a lot of seafood! In general, I thought Grand-Popo to be much rougher and a much simpler place, sandier and with far less vegetation. I also expected to be more isolated: I remember that before coming to Grand-Popo, I was prepared to spend a lot more time alone and I thought I will be reading and drawing a lot.

Soon after, I noticed I wasn’t going to be alone at all. Neither was this an isolated village. And seafood? Well, not so much around, it’s more just fish, but good one.

Could you tell about your projects or ideas you were working with as a scholarship holder?                  

Some months ago we started to make some contacts for the World Music School (WMS) in Africa, through the African diaspora in Helsinki. Currently the World Music School has schools in Helsinki, Shanghai and Porto. I asked myself, why not Africa? I am of course interested in knowing what others in the same field of mine are not doing, so I can surprise and innovate. As far as I know, I don’t know anyone else trying to do the same. And with that in mind, I proposed to study the feasibility of a World Music School for Villa Karo and such was accepted. So mainly, as a scholarship holder, I was working for the music school. I also got an invitation to go to Nigeria to present my work on Architectural Democracy for the 1st Art Biennale of Lagos, so it was a good combination of efforts.

Personally, it is simply enjoyable to go somewhere and leave open space for surprises. It is much better to meet people face to face, have some kind of a joint project and go deeper in each other’s lives than just play around as a tourist.

Were you able to develop the things you wanted to?

Yes. I am getting better with planning things the older I get. Finally! There were some setbacks, which were easily solved. Of course, one makes plans which are not all laid out publicly, sometimes these work, sometimes don’t, but luck comes from being prepared in case these do work. Having a strategy is fundamental as well as being a dreamer, no matter the shame it may bring from its failure. The few successes are worth the sea of falls. With a bit of luck, I think we will continue to work here in the future. I don’t like to put things aside, only if that really doesn’t work. Rather I like to develop it further. Well, the thing I didn’t manage to do was that I didn’t have time to read and draw that much – there was too much social life!

What kind of ideas would you give to someone who is thinking about future projects in Villa Karo?

Educating young girls and music would be very important. It sounds very specific, why girls and why music? I think it is just practical. I see music as being very important, because it has a practical application in daily life: you are memorizing rhythms, texts and stories and growing socially with others, for example. It also provides an empowering tool for women: Africa needs to put a lot more effort on women’s empowerment. As long as there isn’t proper family planning for example, problems of over population and migration will increase. Here women are seen more as baby factories, not as persons. This is urgent, it’s simply the half of the population!

The curriculum in the schools here is good, but the implementation is not. Teachers and the quality of teaching are not evaluated. Also very simple structural things could be improved. An example, in math books the exercises may not be understandable because they are not adapted to the local culture. In general, technical problems are related with water and electricity. 16 years ago I’ve been part in projects for bio gas plants which work well in the beginning but fall into ruins short after. We as Europeans are imposing our way of doing, but Beninese have to find their own way and be a bit more arrogant. Briefly, more value should be put on education.

What were the most memorable moments?                         

A trip to Nigeria was surely one I will not forget. At the border of Benin and Nigeria, we were forced to get out of the bus by the military into the pitch black forest at gun point, being named ”white bastard” with a gun on my head. This made me feel that Benin is a lot more like a home. I felt so relieved when I crossed the border and was back in Benin a few days after!

Since the very first night when I arrived to Villa Karo, there was ”our group” which I will dearly remember, even though I wasn’t yet settled up. I was free of expectations, I didn’t know anybody. I also had a great and fun opportunity to play my bagpipes on Villa Karo’s monthly concert day. And on that evening, all of a sudden, there was a reggae band on the stage with me and of course, there was an obligatory party included!

What did you learn from Beninese and Nigerian people?

I still feel very ignorant about West Africa. My only contacts to Sub-Saharan Africa are from Mozambique and Angola, but it is still very dim. The local “rough ways” always made me suspicious and I still find it hard to adapt to cultures with very direct sexual habits, such as language and dances, like kizomba etc. Here is something similar – of course, you always find similarities at first, but the more you spend time, the more you find differences. Already when I came from Nigeria, I noticed some differences, like if I now see a Beninese and a Nigerian in Helsinki, probably I would be able to distinct them. In general I would say that Nigerians are more nationalistic and more aggressive, also more Anglo-Saxon-culture centered. Beninese are, from my point of view, more elegant. One cannot expect the same working style as we have in Europe: it is more hierarchical in West Africa, sometimes you can use that for good purposes, but also for negative sides. And on that lays a larger problem. A Master can lead you into, but then also another Master can lead you out of the green pastures.

A good thing in Benin is that the roads are never good, which means they don’t speed up so much. Yes, here are accidents also, but for example compared with Vietnam, I feel safer in driving around.

How does it feel to go back home?

I have traveled a lot and changed places so many times, so I don’t get so much of that nostalgia anymore. Anyway, I appreciate now much more the present, small moments, feeling healthy and I am feeling a bit poetic even. I wonder, what will be the next present moment, where I am not thinking about future and maybe not worrying about it so much. I keep myself hysterically busy with the things I enjoy the most. Five weeks was surely enough for me to enjoy, travel, make good friends and also to work to an optimal level on the World Music School in Grand-Popo.


Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect and Civil Engineer. He is at present a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on ”Architectural Democracy”. He is the founder and Artistic Director of “Cidadania” theatre+games group, a professional Musician at Homebound, the founder and Chairman of the World Music School Helsinki, a drawing teacher at the croquis nights and at Kiasma and a comic novelist.

He spent five weeks in Grand-Popo as Villa Karo’s scholarship holder to research on the feasibility of a World Music School in Grand-Popo.