100 flutes for 100 youths - Andre France, the regular Pied Piper of Fleet Street
Amid the sounds of car horns, reggae music blaring from nearby speakers inside Life Yard on Fleet Street, and the enthusiastic screams from children at a nearby school hinting at its dismissal, flute-maker and musician Andre France emits rich melodic notes from one of his very own creations as he awaits the rush of the primary schoolchildren on their way home.
"Don't worry," France tells The Sunday Gleaner as he sits, patiently laying out the various types of bamboo flutes. "You will soon see them (the children) running come to play."
France has called on the communities in the vicinity of Laws Street and Fleet Street, a refuge for visual and recording artistes in his '100 Flutes for 100 Youths' campaign.
Already, he has taught more than five boys and one girl from the area how to play the flute from the proper way to hold the instrument to breath control.
In no time, three young boys turn the corner, each about seven or eight years old, requesting a flute.
The young boys quickly grab their flute of choice and gather around France.
The lessons of the day appear to be 'sharing' and 'patience' as it is easy to become frustrated if the desired sound is not produced. France says his first experience playing the flute was definitely a challenge but was well worth the patience after he heard how it sounded.
Tyrell Jackson, a grade three student, sits beside France, practicing the entire session until he is breathless, but not showing any signs of giving up. "He is one of the best motivations for me to continue," said France.
The flutes he makes produce vibrant sounds that echo up and down the street similar to the Pied Piper's call - so much so that more children start to follow France's every move like the character.
"This is exactly how it all started a friend of mine got me to come to Fleet Street and as usual, I had one or two flutes on me at the time," said France. "When I began playing, the youths just gathered around, Some even asked me to bring a flute for them the next time I returned," said France.
At the time, France did not know when he would return. "I know the likkle yute don't even know how powerful that moment was for me."
You could say that France is paying it forward as he, too, learnt in a similar fashion under the guidance of a musician - M'bala M'gabo. Now, he is no stranger to live acoustic events such as Dub School and Dub Club, with a large following of reggae music players like Yaadcore and Zincfence Sound.
Trial and error
As for the manufacturing of flutes, that was trial and error for France, using bamboo from his home environment in Stony Hill, St Andrew. He explains that the bamboo is hard to work with. It is one of the oldest instruments, and for some unknown reason, the musician has grown to love it and wants to share his passion for the flute with the next generation of musicians.
As part of the initiative, France has produced beginner flutes (with no particular key) but says that once the youth who participate have grasped how to play and the attitude to become a good flautist, then he will consider distributing concert flutes (which arein the range of G and C keys) before expanding to wider communities.
"The concert flutes can climb a major or minor scale and play alongside an orchestra. This is only the beginning, and with the right support and funding, the project can reach further in the streets," he said.
He has given away approximately 15 of the handmade native bamboo flutes to date but the aim is 100.