African Memories

My first debut CD (or single) is released!! It features 3 compositions for solo shakuhachi in which I explore my African roots as well as the relationships between Japanese and African spiritualities. It is now available online on all digital platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music Deezer, etc.
In the coming months, the music notations will be available as well.

It was a huge work, the musical result of which being only the tip of the iceberg. I was dreaming of recording a CD already for years. Honkyoku? Modern music? Birds? At a point, it became obvious that my first recording should be my own compositions. Who I am. Where I come from. And what I can do with a shakuhachi.


The first time I felt the urge to compose was during our honeymoon in Japan in 2017. We were birdwatching on Hokkaido and we just had watched Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Sea Eagles fish. This was so strong that I wanted to compose some music about it. In its raw wilderness, this was as beautiful as the Japanese cranes.

A few months later, I was asked to write a piece for shakuhachi 2.4 for a puppeteer about owls, it became Fukurō.

After this first experience, I started some sketches about the Steller’s Sea Eagle. The sea, the wind, a melody… I still don’t know how it turned out into Gorée, it just overpowered me.

African Memories

In the meantime I had read Nelly Larsen’s book “Passing” and dug a bit more in the Harlem Renaissance. Until I found the poem “Heritage” by Countee Cullen. Its beginning sticked to my mind:

“What is Africa to me?”

I could write a novel to answer this question. Not a funny one. So I dug further. Couldn’t I find anything positive to answer this question?

Gorée – La Porte du Non-Retour

Gorée, La Porte du Non-Retour

My first composition is “Gorée – La Porte du Non-retour“. This piece is a prayer for the souls of the slaves deported from the Island of Gorée, close to my birthplace Dakar (Senegal). I wrote it as another “Tamuke“, to heal suffering and find a space for peace. The piece goes through strong emotions. It cannot be played “nicely”. It has to be played as a song trying to escape from the darkest jail.

I sent this first piece to the shakuhachi performer and composer Elizabeth Brown, and her positive reaction encouraged me to continue composing.
Thank you Elizabeth.


Tambin, photo Alexandra Maiuga

Then came “Tambin”. A peul flute that I learned playing as my first world flute (see pictures below). And which is still my favorite flute after shakuhachi. This piece was the most challenging to write, especially because I wanted to include what makes African music so special: rhythm & drums. And especially for this piece, djembe (which I also learned).
The other compulsory aspect of the Tambin is the singing. I first didn’t dare to use it with the shakuhachi, until I heard the fantastic work of Anne Norman mixing shakuhachi and voice.
Thank you Anne.

Sénégal 2005, with my Tambin teacher Baba Galaie and my Djembe teacher Ibrahima. And my daughter Inori.

Both Tambin and Gorée were premiered at the International Shakuhachi Festival in Prague in September 2019.

Baobab – L’âme du Griot

And finally, during the recent lockdown, I finished composing “Baobab, l’âme du Griot“. African tales, African spirit. This piece is dedicated to my master Fukuda Teruhisa. I use the 2.4 shakuhachi he gave me as a gift. I explore the top octave (Dai-kan) – I love high notes played softly on long flutes – and the use of whistle tones, harmonics, and what Sensei calls “Sorane”, which is the “inner spirit of the sound”.
Forever grateful Sensei.

In all pieces, I included a moment of singing. At first, it was not present in Gorée, but thanks to the attentive listening of my husband Wim Scheenen, I added it eventually in this piece too. All along the process, I had the full support of my husband and my daughter, Inori Serre.
“African Memories” is dedicated to them both.

Hijiri Spirit

“Tambin”, Drawing by Lilipat Miatti

All three compositions, although very personal concerning the inspiration, take part of the Hijiri style and spirit: the spirituality as basis for composition and the “sacred breath” of the shakuhachi. And also, by searching new sounds, colours and exploring the different possibilities of the shakuhachi, especially in top octave, rhythms and dynamics range, I humbly think I am adding there my little stone to the great work initiated by Fukuda sensei and the composers he works with.


Before recording the CD, I had started a video project with the young video maker Alexandra Maiuga. It was very enjoyable to work with her and share artistic vision and ideas. Here is the result of this collaboration:

Gorée – La Porte du Non-Retour


6 thoughts on “African Memories”

  1. Dear Hélène,

    congratulation! That sounds like a great project! Unfortunately, under Spotify comes a completely different music, not your recordings. See my screenshot.

    Looking forward to hear yours 😉 Happy blowing, Anke

    Liked by 1 person

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