There’s something about a festival’s spirit that is invaluable.
Fact. Places like South by Southwest (SXSW) and Coachella are being criticized as hip, elitist and poor as far as forward-thinking is concerned (really people, do we need another endless conversation of whether or not music should be free?).
It’s ok though. They’re more than a meet-and-great of “people who matter“ in the tech & music industry. Occasionally, you can attend good concerts (isn’t it all that counts?) while discovering the next big thing in tech.
Fact. On the other extremity of the hipness spectrum, once a year in April, one finds a much more intimate convening that secretly takes place in Zimbabwe, a land that is definitely not on the map of music and tech hipsters. Wait – where did you say?
HiFA, the Harare International Festival of the Arts is a weeklong firework of creativity, rebalancing the cultural industry’s priority toward more creative expression, new forms of audience engagement and various intercultural experiments (some questionable, like Ubuntu meets Aloha, but let’s move on). HiFA’s justly listed by CNN as one of the 10 most interesting festivals in the World. The thing is: 50 people in the World know about it.
This year, it’s in a challenging local economic and social context that some of the most active thinkers and doers operating at the global and regional intersect of the music-and-tech space gathered to discuss the complexities and opportunities that face a fast-changing and competitive ecosystem for actors, institutions and professionals of the music & tech sector.
Proposed for the first time by the African Music Development Programme, the Impact Music Conference smartly mixed discussions, workshops, presentations and pitching competitions over two days, in a warm and intimate setting that had a pleasant “TED meets Faubourg Tremé“ feeling. In our culture, we call it a successful indaba.
While Spinlet and SoundsGood startup teams showcased their exciting music discovery online services, award-winning Ghanaian rapper M.anifest and Zimbabwean Twitter-guru writer Tehn Diamond shared personal visions and philosophy on emerging forms of online engagement with fans, over an inspiring discussion led by Virginie Berger, founder of Don’t Believe The Hype (‘yes’ was the start of her last jam). Yoel Kenan, founder of Africori, a leading digital music company touched on digital distribution, monetization and synch licensing, critical and timely topics.
Teju Ajani, Content partnerships lead, Sub Saharan Africa at Youtube inspired us during a content creation workshop -Google Hangouts as a way to create organic connections with users- that’s precisely when I felt overwhelmed with a realization (am I the only getting ‘aha’ moments at 2pm, when my brain finally starts operating thanks to a fourth green tea muffin of the day?).
For Africa, the development of the music industry is not just the story of “the development of technology“, as Ed Bronfman would put it. Here, the growth of the sector is intertwined with … the personal journey of creative minds whose audience can totally relate to. My take: provide local artists with native tools to explore their talent and they’ll surprise you with their grit, intellect, sensitivity, responsibility, and … success!
When John Wesley wrote “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can“ didn’t he foresee Phiona Okumu brilliantly craft digital content and evangelize on behalf of African creative communities?
Fast-forward. Reading the Time 100 on my flight back to Kenya. I’m smirking, amused to see one of the so-called 100 most influential people in the World declare, “To be able to have more people experience [my concerts] through virtual reality –that would be epic. That’s something I’m looking forward to“. Miley Cyrus, who featured twice in the list, is basically acknowledging publicly that she’s clueless about what’s happening in the world. As priceless as deplorable, but I guess some artists have a ‘virtual reality’ on their own.
As a tech-panafricanist, I felt an urge to write a letter to Time’s publishers, suggesting they spend a little bit of Time in Africa. Seriously, guys, it’s happening right here, right now, how can you ignore it? Yet another space where Africa is leapfrogging without being recognized for it. At a time when we’re witnessing African artists directly integrate feedback of their fans into the development of their work (crowd-crafting) and other organic ways of running creative, promotional and cultural marketing experiments, it’s too bad.
There’s more. Chimananda Adichie and Chris Ofili in the same ranking as Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw. And I thought I had a questionable sense of humor… Eventually had to put down the Magazine when I realized Marine LePen (French nationalist about to be dis-owned by her father) was listed in there, somewhere between Jeb Bush (“right to rise” American activist, whose father and brother did rise as leaders of the Free World) and Abubakar Shekau (the CEO and leader of the most evil startup in the world).
Stop. Made up my mind. I don’t think I’d like to see the precious and original Hifa festival invaded by music happy-few next year. I’d rather see the Impact Music Conference take place in another local African festival than at Coachella (ella, ella, ella, hey hey…).
Any suggestion for a venue in 2016?
Send me your ideas!