”We want to build up networks”. Interview with Eddie Hatitye about the new online platform Music In Africa.
The free and open online platform Music In Africa aims to pool reliable and rich information on the African music sector. It serves as a guide for interested persons and contributes to creating greater global awareness of Africa’s music scenes as well as to improving the collaboration between artists at the international level. We were part of the project from the very beginning and now we are excited that musicinafrica.net has been launched. In this interview, Eddie Hatitye, Director of the Music In Africa Foundation, which is building up the platform, talks about his experiences, the first milestones, and his dreams for the future.
Eddie, how does it feel to see the Music In Africa platform online?
It’s great! The whole team has been looking forward to this day when we actually get to see the final result of what we have been talking about for already three years. As you can imagine, we were also a little nervous whether the portal would meet everyone’s expectations. But now we are really happy because we are getting responses from all over Africa. People are going online, creating profiles, and giving positive feedback. A big thanks also goes out to our staff and partners! It’s their consistent dedication and support that has brought us to where we are today.
What can be found on the website so far?
At the moment, there are four sections: Directory, Music Education, Magazine and Resources. Under each section you can find a lot of useful information related to music in Africa, including important contact details and data on people who are active in the African music sector, overviews of African music scenes, educational material, music reviews, news, and practical tools for musicians.
Isn’t this information already available anywhere else?
Yes and no. You can find a lot of information on African music online but most of it isn’t accurate. With the portal we want to change this. Every detail on our website is checked before publishing and we work with experts in the fields we are focusing on. For the Resources section, for example, we did a lot of research on the various African music scenes, genres, instruments and other topics that will help users appreciate the local music sector more. We give advice on cultural management, copyright, and legal aspects. The aim is to provide a deeper insight into all the key aspects of music in Africa. To give you an idea: If you are travelling to a foreign country, you go to the information desk first and ask for a map, you ask for suggestions and want to know everything about the different areas and their special characteristics. In that sense, we are serving as the information desk for Africa in a musical perspective. We are bringing all the information together which was previously scattered all over the internet before.
Who is producing all the content?
We have an in-house team with editors in Southern-, Eastern-, Western- and Central Africa. In addition to that, we commission knowledgeable people – researchers, music educators, and journalists to contribute. However, this brings us to another exciting aspect namely trying to create a sustainable portal. The website allows anyone to create a profile or to write an article. If it is reliable, we will publish it. That means the site maintains itself from a content perspective. It’s a growing platform, consisting of different languages and involving a lot of people. In terms of creating a basis for financial rewards for writers, we developed a tool with which writers can be financially rewarded by other users. So, if you read an article in the Magazine, there is something called “applause”, a button that readers can click on in order to appreciate the text and give a micro-donation to the writer.
That’s an interesting approach to involve the community. What role does technology play in this context?
There are two aspects: From a developmental perspective it was important to create a platform which suits the very diverse, and at times challenging, African market. Internet connectivity and accessibility remains problematic, for instance not everyone in Africa has a smart phone. But obviously when it comes to music in particular, there is another, a lot more important aspect: All over the world the internet and technology are becoming more and more influential in music. And there have been a lot of discussions whether that is good or bad. I think, generally many musicians might say: “we wish at some point that the internet never existed”, because it has changed completely how music is consumed. It has groomed a new kind of musician. But this is exactly why we need this kind of platform, namely to promote musicians, to reach out to new fans, to build new audiences, etc.. The money now is in events, live performances and all these kind of things – however, without awareness people will never go to your show. Technology is there and we aim to make the best out of it.
That means technology changed musicians’ attitude?
In fact, musicians are changing. Well, I would say that they have not changed completely at this stage, but they are changing. Musicians are creating profiles and uploading their music. They are obviously embracing the portal. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that we always put them first. As a non-profit organization we don’t want to make money out of the content. It’s all about taking the positive from technology. Our open source approach not only makes information readily available and for free, but it also encourages people to grow the website by themselves.
This is a very ambitious goal, creating a platform that gathers information on music from all over Africa.
Yes, indeed. Music In Africa is the first of its kind in Africa. Look at Africa: there are more than one billion people with extremely diverse musical backgrounds. Bringing these sectors together on one portal has never been tried before. It is very ambitious and also innovative – in the way in which we built it and how information goes online and is moderated. I think it is an initiative without precedent.
Why is it important to create such a platform?
Music occupies a very special place in Africa. And of course today it is not only a matter of culture but it is also a potentially commercial activity. There are very limited resources where music can be preserved or where professionals can exchange knowledge or promote their musical works for free. I think that is why Africa is sometimes seen as less advanced in comparison to other continents. It’s not because we don’t have great music, it’s because the mediums for African musical works are very limited. The Music In Africa portal invites people to know and value music from all over the continent. We want to create awareness of the African music sector and build up networks.
How do you manage to spread the word and bring people together?
That’s a good question. In fact, this was a very tricky part for us. Luckily, we had a strong network supporting us from the very beginning. There is a reference group of 200 music experts from all over Africa supporting our idea. And we also have a proficient board consisting of members from different parts of Africa and Europe, bringing in different perspectives and ideas. Their network is really important to spread the word. It’s crucial that Music In Africa is not only an online project. To make the idea of Music In Africa known, we are visiting a lot of music conferences and events. For example, some highlights in the past were WOMEX, the World Music Expo in Budapest and SIMA, the International Forum for African Music in Dakar. In addition to this, we will implement “offline” workshops and educational programs, which means sitting together with musicians, talking about the music business, or initiating educational activities in cooperation with the Global Music Academy.
Sounds promising. Looking ahead, what is your wish for the future of the portal?
That Music In Africa would be the first port of call for all inquiries related to music in Africa – at a level where it’s not just a portal, but a sustainable contributor to the African creative economy with a strong B2B aspect. Our aim includes creating visibility for artists as well as consistent consumption from music fans all over the globe. I wish that Music In Africa will increase the audience for African music works and at the same time create bridges for the interaction between the people who are involved in the music sector. And by this I do not only mean musicians, but also music journalists, researchers, educators, and publishers. Music in Africa generates a lot of networks that are focusing on the field of music – bringing people together and continuing to spark, as a catalyst for engagement.
Thank you, Eddie! We wish you and the whole Music In Africa platform all the best.
Music In Africa was initiated by Goethe-Institut and Siemens Stiftung together with partners all over Africa. Since its foundation in July 2013, the pan-African Music In Africa Foundation, is in charge of building up the online platform musicinafrica.net. Goethe-Institut and Siemens Stiftung are funding and accompanying this process. On a long-term period, the portal will be fully funded by the Music In Africa Foundation.
On September 12, 2015, German President Joachim Gauck is hosting a Citizens Festival at Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Nigerian-German musician Adé Bantu will be there as a guest of Siemens Stiftung. With his band BANTU, he will perform his energetic mix of Afrofunk, Hiphop, and Afrobeat. We joined him for a discussion about what music can achieve in a society.
Adé, at the core of the Citizens Festival in Berlin is the message that social engagement is an important part of civil society. You get involved through your music in many ways. In Germany, where you lived for a long time, most people know of the “Brothers Keepers” initiative, which you brought to life in 2001 with other musicians. It is a strong statement against xenophobia and a call for more tolerance and openness. You have been living in Lagos for a few years now – how do you get involved there?
The situation in Nigeria is difficult. The Boko Haram terror attacks in the northeastern part of the country are ever-present. We couldn’t just put up with that. We wanted to make a statement with the project “Lagos-Kano Hip-Hip Connection.” Working with the Goethe-Institut, we set up workshops with Christian and Muslim musicians. Through music, we opened up a dialogue, which helped bridge divides. It took a lot of persuasion, but in the end it was worth it. We were eventually able to put on a concert with Muslim and Christian musicians in Kano, in the northern part of the country. It got quite the media response!
That was in 2012. What has happened since then?
Unfortunately, about six months later, there was a Boko Haram attack in the same place. That was a big blow, but we can’t give up. The African spirit – openness and tolerance – cannot be stamped out by Boko Haram. As part of “Artwatch Africa,” we recorded a song against extremism together with musicians and activists from 12 West African countries. “Droit de vivre” (“The Right to Live”) was released in March of this year. A video will appear soon, which will be subtitled in Hausa – the language spoken in the areas where the terror regime of Boko Haram is the worst. The song is meant to inspire people to reflect and to give them courage to pursue a peaceful coexistence.
At first glance, the situation in Nigeria is very different to the situation in Germany. But you are still getting involved with the same tool: music.
Yes, when it is about reaching people and motivating them, music is often the best way. It speaks to people’s emotions, which is not as easy with words alone. I want to achieve social changes with my music. Creative-types like me are often very impulsive and emotional in that sense, but it often resonates more than political action would.
Why don’t more musicians do that?
There are different reasons for that. In Nigeria, for example, many young artists are dependent on sponsors. There isn’t really any structure in the music business, no real labels. This means a lot of musicians are very cautious, because they are worried about upsetting potential sponsors. They don’t want to stick their necks out too far. It is a little different in my case. I lived in Germany for a long time, so I also brought a bit of the protest music tradition with me, which takes on current societal problems.
What is needed to strengthen this type of music?
There are two main things: courage and structure. With my projects, such as the new concert series “Afropolitan Vibes,” I try and encourage musicians to get socio-politically involved; not to be mainstream. Creating structures in the music industry is a bigger challenge. The new platform “Music In Africa” is certainly an important step in the right direction.
You were involved at the very beginning of “Music In Africa.” What do you like about the emerging music platform?
The online platform tells Africa’s musical history. For the first time, everything is on one platform, available for everyone. I know some of the authors. They come straight from the scene that they are writing about. That gives the content authenticity that their peers are looking for. It strengthens the individual artists, but also the music sector as a whole.
What are you bringing with you when you come to the Citizens Festival in Berlin?
For starters, my 13-piece band – and of course a lot of music: a mixture of Afrobeat, Afrohiphop, Highlife, and Afrofunk. We have been working together closely for years and see ourselves as ambassadors of social consciousness who reach across borders and blend musical styles. Berlin will be an adventure, and we are looking forward to it!
Adé Bantu can be seen with his band BANTU on September 12, 2015 from 4:20 p.m. on the main stage in the park of Bellevue Palace. Admission is free.