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Songs for sustainable development and peace

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Project aim

This project centers on popular music as a means to promote sustainable development and peace in the developing world, especially towards rebuilding war-torn societies, and with special focus on public health and education for the youth. Currently, we're working together with Liberian popular musicians, current or former refugees from Liberia's civil wars of 1989 - 2003, who are living in Ghana's Buduburam refugee camp, or in the process of reestablishing themselves in Liberia. Our ultimate goal is to establish an NGO in Monrovia, training musicians and supporting production of Creative Commons-licensed music circulating freely towards sustainable peace and development, both to deliver crucial, transformative messages to a war-torn society, and to raise global awareness and concern about post-conflict issues.

The power of music in West Africa

Songs for sustainable development and peace...why, and how? In contrast to infrastructural development projects like building roads, schools, and hospitals, songs are intangible yet relatively inexpensive to produce, filled with a symbolic affecting power that compensates for their insubstantial physical presence. Massive, costly physical projects work impressive physical transformations: clean water, sanitation, health services, education. Music doesn't have the power to effect such physical transformations directly.

But music brings its own special power, and popular music in particular. Circulating rapidly through multiple media networks -- Internet, radio, TV, mobile phone --popular music (by definition) engages the broadest possible social spheres. Songs for development and peace are a special type, working their effects by fusing popular styles with evocative, topical lyrics. Familiar musical styles and catchy tunes attract listeners' attention. Carefully crafted lyrics deliver the transformative messages of development and peace. Popular music sounds--especially hiphop, gospel, R&B, and reggae, in West Africa--pull listeners in, raising solidarity, and heightening emotional receptivity. The lyrics of these songs, however, are not typical of such genres, but rather are composed expressly to address immediate, pressing social issues, diffusing crucial verbal and emotional messages capable of changing behavior, triggering action enabling people to reweave social fabrics rent by war.

Songs can promote social harmony, by emphasizing religious tolerance and interethnic respect, humanizing the "other" - an urgent need for societies split by civil war, but also for a global community prone to dehumanizing the far-off "other". They also include awareness of natural and human dangers that often follow in the wake of violent conflict, due to destruction of families, shocking poverty, rampant disease, poor health, collapsed infrastructure, psychological depression, and psychic trauma. A song cannot bring clean drinking water, but can call attention to the dangerous diseases carried by unpurified water. A song cannot heal the wounded, but can call for tolerance and understanding. A song doesn't replace a school, but can remind of its importance. A song cannot prevent a man from striking his wife or children, but can make him think before acting in repressed anger, or reflect carefully on what he has done. Songs can raise awareness, and songs can change behavior. Music videos can raise awareness through a visual dimension as well. In this way, carefully crafted songs can contribute towards public health, ethnic and religious tolerance, improved use of educational opportunities, and reduced domestic violence. Such songs can serve as powerful tools for intangible, social and cultural transformation.

In West Africa, popular music is everywhere - an essential part of daily life, even for those mired in dire poverty. We've been working with Liberian refugee musicians in Ghana who know these hardships firsthand. They also know very well the power of popular music, and how to craft songs -- from reggae to rap -- that are widely appreciated among their refugee peers, and beyond - among West Africans generally. Our first audio production Giving Voice to Hope: Music of Liberian Refugees centered on using music to tell the stories of these musicians, and the fractured society from which they've come.

The project

project goals: public health, education, tolerance, peace

We're now focussing on sponsoring production of songs disseminating messages promoting positive social change and cultural harmony, especially in the domains of public health and education, ethnic and religious tolerance, and peace.

In West Africa songs are comparatively inexpensive to produce. About $2000-$3000 suffices to compose and record a song, compensating musicians, composer, and lyricist (music videos will cost about twice as much). Artists involved in the project will agree to be paid a modest honorarium in advance, with no subsequent royalties, signing a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License guaranteeing artist recognition and artistic integrity, but allowing their song to circulate freely, thus maximizing its impact.

Ultimately we hope to establish an NGO in Monrovia (Liberia's capital), training musicians and supporting production of Creative Commons-licensed popular music circulating in the public domain towards sustainable peace and development, both to deliver crucial messages to a war-torn society, and to raise global awareness about post-conflict issues.

In this way we seek to achieve three goals:

  1. Support sustainable development and peace in war-torn societies, by using music--disseminated through local mass media--to focus attention on critical social issues (such as public health and education), and changing behaviors.
  2. Raise global awareness about these issues, via Web platforms such as iTunes and YouTube channels, and by including a wide network of participants, thereby encouraging compassionate action
  3. Support musicians materially and symbolically, by providing training in music production, enhancing profile, and offering a modest stipend, thus reviving musical cultures of war-torn societies generally, restoring their music scenes to the global map.

project method

Production of each song will take place in several phases:

  1. A textual theme is provided by a member of the project team, or by a potential sponsor. Themes may include a wide array of issues - public health, education, domestic violence, etc…
  2. Participating musicians rapidly develop this idea into a song prototype, a musical draft, using local computer facilities to generate sound, resulting in a text file of lyrics, plus an mp3
  3. The project team seeks a sponsor, well-suited to the theme, to raise about $2000-$3000 per song (somewhat more for music videos) depending on the number of musicians involved. This manageable figure falls well within the range of NGOs or even community organizations (e.g. churches and schools).
  4. Sponsors engage with the song production team, suggesting modifications to text and music, in an open dialog aiming at harmonious agreement. Once achieved, the sponsor sends funds for implementation
  5. Funds are used to produce the song at a top-tier local digital recording studio, resulting in a professional sound, without the need for travel, as well as providing a modest honorarium to the artists.  Pro bono postproduction contributions come from North American studios, such as Rhodes Recordings in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Sometimes multiple mixes are developed to suit different audiences.
  6. The digital song (sometimes with accompanying video or documentary material) is digitally distributed...
    1. Locally through cooperating radio and TV stations
    2. Globally through the Web, including iTunes, podcasts, YouTube, etc. Besides the songs themselves, a podcast may also carry other material, such as interviews with the musicians, along the lines of Refugee Music TV (see http://bit.ly/shadowbudu)

Songs for sustainable development and peace

Following our initial audio CD and a subsequent video documentary short, we have begun to draft songs for sustainable development and peace. In collaboration with musicians of the Buduburam Liberian refugee camp in Ghana, there are now six such songs. Three have been funded and produced in professional studios in Accra and Edmonton, while the other four (produced at Buduburam) are ready for dialog with potential sponsors (sponsorship total in parentheses, for audio only except as noted):

Funded and completed:

Funded and in progress':

  • "Child eduction" Ft. Judell, H. Tarwah Steward & Shadow ($5000 for music video). Sponsored by the Emil Skarin fund and Westboro Elementary School, Sherwood Park, Alberta

Unfunded:

Please help!

If you are interested in sponsoring one of these songs, or in proposing another, please write us. Thank you for your support of this project!

-- Michael Frishkopf

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