©St. Louis African Chorus,
-by Fred Onovwerosuoke
Marcel Padey from Cotonou, Benin Republic currently serves as resident artist for the Alliance Francaises, the French cultural center in Cotonou, Benin Republic. He is a traditional instrumentalist, and specializes in working with children. He has presented workshops and master classes in France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as many Francophone countries in Africa.
In a recent interview (March 2002) with the Voice of African Music, Padey declared: “First, I learn from the elders. Then I construct the instruments the way I was taught. Sometimes, I receive money from the French government to incorporate modifications or find new uses for traditional African instruments.”
Padey is on a mission, has been for some time: to encourage kids in urban Africa to learn about traditional instruments.
“Everyone wants to play the western instruments—the guitars, keyboard, drum-set. Some have forgotten that in Africa we have our string instruments, keyboards, drums, and many different kinds of instruments. Many of our city children even look down on their friends who wield traditional instruments. This is not good.”
Padey has seen and lived Western life, and is very aware of its lure and mesmerism, especially to the urban youth in Africa.
He was born 1955 in the slumber town of Savè in the heart of the Benin Republic. His father was a subsistence worker at that time. At about three his mother died, and the family returned to Cotonou, the capitol, when Padey grew up. His primary and secondary studies occurred in this vicinity.
After his baccalaureate in 1974, he spent a brief period at the Benin National University, before moving on to complete his university education in Cote D’Ivoire. In 1980 he moved to France, where he obtained a master degree in musicology and music education at the St. Denis Paris 8.
He returned to Benin in 1986. Today Padey heads a baccalaureate magnate school, where students major in plastic arts, music, dance, and theatre. In this position, he says, “I am able to nourish artistic acuity in our youth.” From 8 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon we train them to master the usual classical forms acquired through colonialism. “We have to do this, because I believe the students should be able to compete with their counterparts worldwide.” But there is a heavy emphasis on after-school programs, and this is where Padey invests his deepest passion: to instill a sense of pride and appreciation for African culture. The school engages professionals and practitioners of various traditional music vocations to work with the students.
Padey has developed instruments from stones, pans, pots,wood, plastic, bottles, and any thing that is idiophonically malleable. On the side he is also a sound and recording engineer, and has produced three CDs. He has three daughters, and remains happily married to wife whom he refers to as “God’s gift to me.”