Changing perspectives on music

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The Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference aims to shine the light on our continent’s music in the first week of next month, writes Helen Herimbi.

It’s a new dawn for African music. At least that’s what the organisers of the Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference are trying to establish. Due to take place over two days at the beginning of next month, the conference will consist of panels, workshops and performances that showcase music from the continent. There will be speakers and workshop conductors from various genres and sectors of music. People with experience on stage as well as behind the scenes.

“The conference is not just about South Africa,” says Trenton Birch of Black Mango (a company that has organised this conference). “Kenya Music Week is one of our partners and the way that we have set up the organising committee is that everyone comes from different backgrounds and, in some cases, different countries. The industry is so polarised and artists tend to be fixated on trying to tour Europe, but what about touring the rest of Africa? So for this conference we’ve also tried to bring a few delegates from other parts of the continent.”

“You know how people go to Midem in Cannes?” asks Birch. “We’re hoping to achieve that.”

The Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference has good timing too. The hugely popular Cape Town Jazz Festival will take place in the first weekend of next month and present workshops throughout the week too. The influx of local and international music lovers in Cape Town during that week will mean that at least more than a few ears will be pleased by the sound of the Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference’s inception.

But that doesn’t mean people should expect a run-of-the-mill kind of conference. Birch explains, “The traditional model of a conference wouldn’t work here. Usually, over-seas a conference of this nature may cost you $400 (R3 670) upwards, but here, we have a standard ticket for R250 that anyone who is serious about attending can afford. There is a vibrant Pan African industry that may not even be as organised as we are in South Africa, but we’re not there yet.” One of those reasons is there is a stigma attached to being labelled “African music” just as there has been a dark cloud over the term “world music” over the years.

“We once had a ‘world music’ magazine from Australia review the compilations we put out under our Breathe Sunshine record label,” recalls Birch, “and they called our hybrid of electro chilled beats from Joburg and Cape Town the kind of music you listen to while going down in a Boeing. Just because we didn’t fit into the white elitist view of what African music is supposed to be. If it doesn’t have djembe drums or any chanting then it can’t be African music,” he laughs.

This conference is meant to turn that stereotype on its head. It will have panel discussions among the likes of artists DJ Tira, Jon Savage, Jack Parrow and industry experts like Lindelani Mkhize, Bassline owner, Brad Holmes, Dreamteam SA’s Refiloe Ramogase, Shado Twala, Oliver Barnett of Putumayo record company, as well as Sibot, DJs Suga and TBo Touch. They will discuss topics like the future of live music in Africa, digital – the role of mobile vs traditional online, music’s role in sponsorship, brand activation and advertising and music and the media.

Through workshops like “How “to get ahead in the music industry” (hosted by Dave Chislett), “Marketing for the artist: social media, PR (Caroline Hillary, Lara Preston) and even a hip hop masterclass hosted by Shameema Williams, Ready D, Emil YX and others. You may remember Williams as part of the prolific hip hop group Godessa. She says: “The group of individuals who will be a part of the masterclass wanted to stay away from telling people what to do. Instead, we’d like to offer cats an opportunity to ask us what they’d like to know because between all of us, we have a collective wealth of experience in this industry.”

“With Godessa,” she continues, “we chose to stay independent because there wasn’t a label that would allow us to pursue our music as we wanted to.

“This conference is going to show people it’s not about trying to find a label to sign you. It’s about how to move to the digital world and that we need to look away from the old ways of doing things. Sometimes South Africa seems behind in terms of new music technology, but this conference is a start of how we can catch up.”

• The Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference takes place at the Cape Town City Hall on April 1 and 2. Tickets are available online at www. breathesunshineconference.com and are priced from R180 for a day pass and R250 for a full festival pass.

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