Music in Africa Project
Extraordinary sounds are created when German and African musicians experiment together. An interview with Jens Cording of the “Music In Africa” project. The world of African music is highly diverse – but hardly networked to date. The “Music In Africa” online platform seeks to change all that. Co-founder Jens Cording recounts how music contributes to fostering understanding on the African continent – and what stylistic diversity Africa has to offer.
Europe. And musicians in Africa have few opportunities to communicate with one another. How does the platform “Music In Africa” intend to change that?
Enlarge image Co-founder of Music in Africa Jens Cording (© Siemens Stiftung) “Music In Africa” is the result of a simple observation: It was virtually impossible to obtain sure-fire and incisive information on current music being created on the continent. Consequently, interaction and mutual learning were not possible. We set out with the support of the Siemens Foundation to change this. And together with Goethe-Institut, seven years ago we invited music-makers from all over Africa to a conference in Johannesburg to debate to what extent an Internet music information platform might be a good way of overcoming these knowledge and communication deficits. At the conference, the idea arose of setting up an enduring instrument for information and communication within the music sector in Africa.
How do you all collaborate on the platform?
More than 100 professional musicians, academics, journalists, cultural managers and educationalists were involved in launching the project that is now the largest and most active cultural platform in Africa. The platform brings together a wealth of information on artists, cultural organizations, producers, music studios and educational institutions as well as concert and CD reviews, announcements, tenders, music news and extensive written material on the music styles in the 30 countries covered to date.
What has the project achieved so far?
Enlarge image (© Goethe Institut) Music-makers can gain a comprehensive and insightful picture of current musical life in Africa and initiate collaborations. Together with us the Music In Africa Foundation, which was founded three years ago in Kenya and which now runs the projects, initiates active collaboration between German and African musicians. For example, there was a truly profitable collaboration between Senegalese hip hoppers and Munich band Blumentopf and the fruitful collaboration between Cameroon band Macase and Popakademie Baden-Württemberg in Mannheim. We will be intensively pursuing such joint ventures.
What role do art and music play in social, political and economic growth on the African continent?
Art and music are incredibly important in Africa. Like everywhere else in the world they express how people see themselves and contribute to peace and understanding. Over and beyond politics, music makes a key contribution to understanding on the continent, and also across national borders and social boundaries. Often it is artists who reflect social change with the greatest sensitivity and thus help create a vibrant civil society. A good example is Senegalese hip hop, which is frequently the mouthpiece of a self-confident generation of young Africans and has a very decisive influence on politics in the country. Or there are the griots in many West African countries, whose centuries-old musical tradition plays a major role in shaping people’s identities. Nigerian-German musician Ade Bantu, who is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Music In Africa Foundation, once said: “Music is the weapon of tomorrow.” And I would also hope that music makes a favourable impact on peace processes and successful societies.
What can music achieve in addition?
Music in Africa should not only be seen in a socio-cultural context; it also offers business opportunities. The emergence of the entire creative industry is still pretty much in its infancy. It would seem as if there is a truly inexhaustible potential here just waiting to reshape the face of the continent. With “Music In Africa” we want to support all the creative minds, provide them with tools and help foster professionalization and networking.
“Music In Africa” has contributed to the cultural programme accompanying the G20 conference “G20 Africa Partnership – Investing in a Common Future”, which takes place on June 12 - 13 in Berlin. How did that come about?
We are seeing “Music In Africa” increasingly being considered an authority for high-grade information. And that’s how the contact to the G20 conference came about. Very specifically, we researched suitable musicians from Africa and then put their names forward. Seven musicians from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal and Ghana will perform with four European musicians and play in different constellations at different venues on the conference grounds. Perhaps this will be an example for the guests taking part in the conference of how communication and participation can actually function. “Music In Africa” has provided substantive input to the overall concept and the Siemens Foundation is supporting the undertaking.