Yi-Baï & Hermann: Talent VS the Artistic Platform in Cote d'Ivoire.
During my time in Abidjan in December 2017, I have got the chance to work with Yi-Baï Bapes and Hermann Wilfried Boni, two very talented Ivorian actors, who accepted to share their experience, as working artists in Cote d'Ivoire, with us.
Yi-Baï, 25 years old, and Hermann, 24 years old, are multi-talented artists. Yi-Baï is a singer, a dancer, an actress, a model plus size and to top it all, she is also a civil engineering technician. As for Hermann, he is an actor, a singer, and a journalist. I was lucky enough to see them many times on stage and I encourage anybody who lives in Abidjan to try to catch one of the several musicals they produce per year. I am also proud to announce that Hermann already realized one of his biggest dreams as he produced and performed in his own musical that he presented few days ago (7/4/2018). Congrats to him! A perfect example that proves once more that you can if you want.
MA.C : Before even starting this interview I wanted to say thank you for agreeing to meet me! And obviously, my first question is going to be: how did you start your artistic career? I know that you guys kind of touch everything: you are actors, singers, you Yi-Baï, you're a model... How did everything really started?
H.W.B : As a gentleman, I'll let Yi-Baï go first.
Y.B : [laughs] Thanks Hermann! I'd say that I started since I am in my mother's womb because during her pregnancy, my mother was always on stage. People thought it was a calabash painted to the color of her skin that had been taped on her body. She was doing a lot of musicals so we can say that have it in me since I'm in the womb. I don't feel like I chose this job, the stage chose me. My first show, as a physical person, I was 4 or 5 years old. It was mainly for fun because I loved being on stage so much. I always loved shiny stuff [laughs] so I guess it is part of my nature!
MA.C : [laughs] Ok, so Art is something really organic for you! What about you Hermann?
H.W.B : I wouldn't say I've always had it, but it all started when I joined my church choir. I was the only man that could sing bass and since I was also a beginner, I had some trouble following. So the conductor taught me every single song, and the more we were working together, the more he could see some potential in me and how fast I learned things. My voice also was getting much better. So we started doing concerts together. However, my first real experience on stage was for the Fashion Circus with Paule-Marie Assandre, whom Yi-Baï knows as well. From this, I wanted to continue performing on stage by adding acting and dance to my original art that is singing.
MA.C : You guys started your career very differently! Yi-Baï, I suppose it might have been maybe easier for you to announce to your parents that you wanted to become an artist?
Y.B : No, not at all! Because when your parents are in this industry here in Africa, there are so many difficulties that, even them, who were able to put food on the table for their family, don't want their children to suffer the same difficulties. No parent is working to see their children suffer. My father, especially, was against the idea of me becoming an artist. When I was 12, I already wanted to quit school to start my career or maybe go to a conservatoire for the Arts. My father said "No", he wanted me to graduate from high school first. But when I did and started working, I saw myself the type of difficulties my parents were warning me about so I was like "Yeah, it's better for me to go to Uni first!"[laughs].
MA.C : [laughs] Oh yeah good idea! And what is your father's occupation? Is he an artist as well?
Y.B : He is a lighting technician, and my mother as an artist singer-dancer-painter, I really have a family of artists. But my father wanted diplomas and at the same time he knew it was natural for me to sing under the shower every day or to dance everywhere, so he was letting me do my thing while always reminding me that the most important was school. So I started doing both: after school at 5 pm, I was going to rehearsals for some shows until 10 pm, before going back home to study for school. In the beginning, it was really tiring but I loved it so much that I couldn't stop.
MA.C : Yes it makes sense, it's your passion so your instinct was telling you were doing the right thing. I also find it amazing that so young, you already knew what you wanted to do.
Personally, I knew what I wanted to do but I feel like I got the courage to start doing it pretty late.
H.B.W : I was in the same situation too. I've always been someone who loved to try different things, so in high school, I joined multiple clubs at the same time which weren't necessarily about the Arts. But when I started watching all those musicals, listening to music, my love for musical theatre evolve in me. And my parents know that I am stubborn, so even if they said "No", I always followed my heart because I love it. I can see a sort of fear in my parents' eyes; my mother, who saw my first show and loved it, by the way, is always asking me: "Are you going to be able to have a stable life? Are you going to be able to build your house?" and so many other questions. And personally I'm scared too but I try not to worry about it. I am trying to create a good career and I am working every day to prove to my parents that I can live my passion.
MA.C : Aww, that's beautiful! I think that we, as artists, we are often struggling to decide between the love of our passion and the uncertainty of, one day, achieving our dreams. Perhaps, the most important is to live every moment fully, without worrying, otherwise, you can be tempted to abandon fast. I am young but sometimes I feel like I waited all my life, have you ever had this feeling?
H.W.B : I think that if I always knew I could to be an artist, I wouldn't be a journalist today. But at the same time, if I wasn't a journalist, I wouldn't be the person I am today, or met the people who are in my life today. And journalism made me more confident in front of the camera too. So would I have been able to have this if I attended the INSAAC ( National Higher Institute of Arts and Cultural Action) right after high school? I don't know. But the most important is to say "Today, I decided to change my life, to recreate myself, to live my passion, how can I get paid for what I do, what image of myself do I have to show on social media?". My project of 2018 is to work on my social media so that when people see my profile they directly think "Oh he is an artist"! I know it's quite a vague thing to say, but we have to educate children on the fact that being an artist is a good thing and let go of all the stereotypes we have here in Africa.
MA.C : Absolutely! We have to educate not only the children but also the parents about artistic careers. What are, for you, the biggest difficulties when working as artists in Abidjan?
H.W.B : To find good platforms to express ourselves. We don't have enough information about castings and it makes everything more complicated.
Y.B : I think that the real difficulty is the carelessness of our fellow actors toward the job itself. Sometimes, you go to a casting and the salary they're offering you won't even pay the electricity bill. And they ask you to sign a contract that says that you can't ask for more money when the movie or T.V. show will be out.
MA.C : No Way!
Y.B : I'm telling you! And obviously, if you don't sign then somebody else will.
MA.C : Of course, there is always someone else to replace you and that's basically everywhere.
Y.B : That's true but for example in Burkina Faso, actors have established rates, so the price of the service you need will be the same wherever you will go. They are really organized out there, they fixed their own salary. And I am talking about something I experienced myself because I asked 6 different persons and they all gave me the same price. It is not normal that Ivorian artists think they can work for free. We should get paid even as extras. They (directors and producers) are the ones who need us!
MA.C : Of course! They are a lot of people who live from their work as extras and it's such a shame you can't do that in this country.
Y.B : Even the travels are not paid. If you have to travel from Port-Bouet to Cocody (two areas in Abidjan that are really far from each other), they give you only 2 000 XOF (about 2,50£/ 3$).
H.W.B : But 2 000 XOF is not enough at all.
Y.B : Exactly, so you have to pay from your own money. That's the real difficulty to me. Actors here are not taking things seriously. I mean people don't usually respect our job so it's important WE take it seriously. Here we say "People will buy you at the price you're selling yourself "(Ivorian saying). So we can't sell ourselves short. The only countries that are actually trying to respect artists are Nigeria and South Africa I think.
H.W.B : Yes, English-speaking countries generally. But Burkina Faso is alright too, especially cinema-wise. They produce a lot of plays... I mean they are making a lot of effort in general.
Y.B : It's true! People consume their own culture in Burkina. They go to watch movies made in their country and that's amazing.
MA.C : That's great! Nigerians are really united too and I think that's why their industry is booming. Their singers, for example, make a lot of good music together. Maybe in Cote d'Ivoire, we still lack a lot of this idea of ensemble and unity, but you know, we are working on it I guess. To finish the interview, tell me what are your biggest dreams, the craziest dreams you have!
H.W.B : Right now, I would like to showcase myself more as an artist, by doing videos, writing articles, post more on social media. I'd like to produce my own musical here in Abidjan and also to reintroduce the idea of music clubs in high schools but, I will do this when I'll be able to dedicate my whole life to the Arts.
MA.C : What about Broadway? Soon?
H.W.B : [laughs] Yes! I HAVE to go on Broadway even if it's to clean the floor or open the curtain, I have to go to Broadway!
MA.C : No, come on you're a star you will be on stage!
H.W.B : Yes but I am going to be so good at opening that curtain that they will want to put me on stage. I think that's how we have to think because we always get smaller roles first but if you give your best you can become the star of the show.
MA.C: I agree! There are no small roles, only small actors. If the writer included you in the story, then I guess you have an objective to achieve and the story might be different without your character. What about you Yi-Baï?
Y.B : I'd love to have my own island [laughs]. It's true, I would love to have an island where I would build a house for my mother. An island where I can do whatever I want: sing, dance, everything! I also dream of performing in Las Vegas for at least 6 months. Those are my craziest dreams.
MA.C : Amazing! The crazier, the better! Again thank you so much guys for this first interview. I think you are so inspiring and I hope that your story will inspire people to believe in their dreams just like you guys are doing! ____________________________
PHOTOGRAPHIES: Marie-Ange Camara
FOLLOW THEM ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
Yi-Baï Bapes: Instagram @yyibai / Facebook Page @yibaiofficiel
Hermann Wilfried Boni: Instagram @mannfried225 / Facebook Hermann Wilfried Boni
Élie Kacoutié and his mother who allowed us to shoot in the Hotel Particulier of Abidjan (Instagram @hotelparticulierabidjan).
Cheikna Diawara who is always supportive and ready to help me realize my projects.