The IFCD provides young artists with a springboard towards musical careers
“Three stages, four nights of concerts, one conference and one exhibition: we are waiting for you in Morocco from July 13 to 16!” read Edna Kankam’s Facebook status update a few months ago. This came as she was given the opportunity to help organize the Timitar Festival in Morocco, where every year audiences can hear a fusion of traditional amazighes, chaäbi and tarab music, alongside electro, reggae and folk.
For this young woman from Ghana, the two months spent working with music technicians and learning how to organize a festival have not only provided her with lasting memories, but have also allowed her to grow professionally. To support young African women like Edna, the International Music Council (IMC) applied for funding from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) to support its “Empowering African youth to harness the potential of the music sector” project. Short and long-term internship programs aimed at young music professionals in Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania are at the heart of this project, which aims to support the development of the African music industry.
We spoke to Edna Kankam as well as Charles Houdart, project manager at IMC.
Charles, what motivated you to set-up these internships?
C: We wanted to equip the next generation with the professional tools they need to build a strong career in the music sector. At the same time, we want to develop an African music industry that performs well, and is professional and competitive. In other words, an industry that is able to compete internationally.
For me, one of the most important components is the cooperation between actors from the south: these internships are led by Africans, for Africans. The trainers are all the more effective and are able to offer tailored trainings because they understand local cultures and professional environments. They can also more easily serve as role models for the youth they are training.
Edna, you’ve just finished your training in Morocco. What did you learn?
E: Thanks to the training funded by IFCD, I was able to help organize the Timitar Festival in Morocco, a large festival that took place in July 2016 and welcomed musicians and spectators from all over the world. By working closely with professionals, I witnessed the challenges that such a large production entails. But more importantly, I learned how to overcome them. Needless to say, I gained a lot of new knowledge and skills! It was also extremely rewarding to meet artists that I have been admiring for so long and to see them perform on a stage I helped set-up. The internship has reinforced my desire to continue working in this field, in Ghana and beyond, as well as my desire to share my experiences with other musicians.
Charles, how do the IFDC’s objectives align with those of the African Music Development Programme?
C: The IFCD aims to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions as well as strengthen institutional infrastructure by promoting viable cultural industries. And that’s exactly what this IMC programme does, by focusing on professionalizing the music sector and working with managers, event and festival organizers, sound engineers, and communication and public relation professionals. All those professions that ensure that the value chain needed for the music industry to flourish is in place.
And what has been the impact of these internships in Africa?
C: The basic tenant of this project is that of learning by doing. From early on in their careers, these young women and men are given a head start and are able to build the networks that will serve them throughout their careers in the cultural sector. The programme is now working across nine countries, and the ultimate objective is to promote the African music industry as a pillar for sustainable development. With support from the IFCD, the programme will provide over 150 young people with internships and opportunities to increase their mobility and skills in order to improve their marketability and give their careers a boost. Over time, we hope that these internships will become part and parcel of university curriculums. We therefore created partnerships with universities and academic centers in Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique, and we hope that the results of this first phase will convince others of the value added of these internships.
E: The young women and men who are involved in the music sector in Ghana, as is the case elsewhere in Africa, are often faced with financial challenges. These internships are therefore all the more important as they will help these artists earn a living from their trade and contribute to the local economy. Over time, they will in turn use their knowledge and skills to mentor the next generation of artists.
Edna, what were you doing before embarking on this internship? And why did you choose this career path?
E: I grew up in a family of musicians and I sang in a choir from a young age, so you could say I was born into it. Before signing up for this internship, I worked at Alliance Française in Accra for four years. There, I helped promote the center’s educational and cultural activities, which mostly revolved around music. I also raised funds to help local artists organize concerts and festivals, and I fostered partnerships with various media houses in order to increase the reach of these artists’ work. These experiences allowed me to witness the positive impacts this kind of support can have on young African artists’ skills and confidence, especially in the case of women.
Charles, what can you tell us about the some of the other interns?
C: Many interns have gone through this programme, but I can give you two concrete examples of young people who have used the internships to launch their careers in cultural and creative industries. Laada Diane Ouedraogo, who interned at the African Music Market “Le Kolatier” for two months in 2015, is now coordinator at the Ouaga Film Lab, a laboratory for film development and co-production that aims to strengthen the competitiveness of African directors and producers in major international laboratories and to facilitate access to local funds and international co-productions. With her colleagues, she helped organize the first edition of the Film Lab that took place in Ouagadougou between September 19-24, 2016. Another young lady, Elite-Flora Gatanga, who also interned for two months at the Kolatier, now manages musicians, helping them to further their careers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.