Music community in South Africa mobilized for fair treatment and opportunities

Would it be possible to live in a world where music did not exist? Music is part of people’s everyday lives. It is constantly present, whether it is musicalizing the joyful moments or the sorrowful ones. Regardless of people’s nationalities, if something connects people, it is being able to appreciate a pleasant song. The African continent possesses a rich diversity of ethnic and cultural influences in music, which offers a wealth of possibilities for listeners to select what they want to listen to. In order to offer this variety of styles, there is a brilliant array of professionals committed to generating this diversity of artistic options and transforming it into reality.

Unluckily, this industry is usually forgotten by governments. In difficult circumstances such as the recent COVD-19 pandemic, the music industry remains habitually the last one to receive financial support. This is why securing funding support to uplift creators worldwide becomes a pressing need. In this case, the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) of UNESCO seeks to empower artists through the project “Revenue Streams for African Musicians” (RSFAM), that provides them with the instruments to boost their income and enhance their economic stature in the music industry.

The project RSFAM

RSFAM, was first deployed in South Africa and to serve as an example for other African countries to replicate it. Fascinatingly, the project engaged not only singers and musicians but also other professionals such as field researchers, and hence creates positive effects across the stakeholder landscape.

Picture a fancy café in downtown Johannesburg. The city is famous for its jazz scene. And Johannesburg’s music ecosystem has allowed singers like Spha Mdlalose with 10 years of experience to make a name for herself and become a professional singer. 

Spha Mdlalose.

She has done the voice-overs for other artists and has her radio show both on conventional radio and on mainstream stations. Woefully, COVID-19 has forced her to suspend what had been and remains her dream: to be able to travel her country performing for her beloved audience. It is not easy to make a living as an artist and in Spha’s case, she is often insecure about what is the fair amount of money she should receive for her professional contributions.

“It is unsustainable to rely on performance fees alone, particularly after the pandemic. Moreover, the project provides a solution for something that could be beneficial to my life.” Spha discloses.

But Spha does not solely consider this assignment as an individual matter as she is also looking out for spillover effects upon her community. She believes that the work being done positively impacts the welfare and development goals of the community in which she currently lives: “My community can, through access to the knowledge that the project is providing, navigate the current industry and the revenue-creating opportunities within it.”

Something that Spha considers interesting is the way in which this activity generates instances of research, something that is usually not done within the music industry. This is one of the reasons why she believes this opportunity delivering powerful impact is “so meaningful and highly relevant.”

Furthermore, the impact of the IFCD’s intervention on Spha’s life both personally and professionally has been positive, as it has contributed to improving her quality of life. As an artist, the outcome of the assignment has delivered the necessary resources to her to make a more adequate living in the music industry. This has had a positive financial repercussion, allowing Spha to enjoy a more stable lifestyle. Precisely, she has learned to properly recognize and carefully manage opportunities to receive further income from it. And at a personal level, as Spha is pursuing an MBA, the activity has provided her knowledge to begin writing her thesis, thus improving her academic stature. This was an important aspect of what she intended as a beneficiary of the project.

As Spha stated, “I am interested in improving my knowledge so that I can help those around me within the creative industry.”

The RSFAM project is a multifaceted initiative comprised of several key components and phases, of which research and analysis represent one of the most important columns following capacity building. In these instances, for analysis to take place and for the necessary information to be gathered, passionate people who want to be part of ventures like this seek to promote the development of society as needed. Such is the case of Thandeka Msebenzi, a research consultant from the city of Durban.

She is steadfast in her beliefs: “Everyone should be responsible for the environment we live in and participate in. Taking care of it and making sure future generations can experience it as well. This can primarily be achieved if we all take part and allow those who have knowledge on how to do so to educate us, and we learn from one another.”

Thandeka Msebenzi 

This constitutes a win-win situation, where workers from different types of industries benefit from each other’s knowledge. Understanding how to enhance the income of music professionals has undoubtedly helped Thandeka realize she also needs to be more aware of the value of her work, and how much she should be paid for it. The impact has been positive, as her income should increase given what she has grasped on the project.

According to Thandeka, “I have transferred what I have learned to the work that generates more income for me and keeps my earnings up throughout the year. At the same time, the project has improved my professional career because it made me evolve towards new horizons such as the world of music, allowing me to generate new work opportunities with other types of clients.”

Each day that she carefully finishes collecting the valuable information requested in the project, she grasps something new.

For example, “I listened to various genres of music that I did not know of; voices, sounds, tunes, and beats that had been produced by young and elderly South Africans.”

These refreshing knowledge gains are another key asset of the IFCD-funded project.

Looking to the future, both Thandeka and Spha are determined to overcome the challenges that may come along the way with the valuable lessons that they have learnt thanks to UNESCO and the IFCD. Thus, they will also perform their endeavors with the interests of communities perpetually at the forefront of their minds. The project has been resonating far beyond its individual beneficiaries, as it seeks to generate spillover effects in many stakeholders both within and even outside the music industry. For Thandeka and Spha, the music industry will benefit from a more in-depth knowledge of current trends, allowing artists to close deals that will generate a fair and more adequate income for their work. For both of them, this is all about making improvements.

The ultimate goal is, according to Thandeka, to “improve wherever we can as communities and to comprehend what makes communities stronger and resilient.”

**This article has been produced in the frame of the project Development of a communication strategy and the implementation plan as well as the strategy implementation services, for UNESCO. 13 human-impact articles were produced for dissemination in UNESCO’s website and social media. The stories highlight the projects implemented by UNESCO (including the International Fund for Cultural Diversity) and the impact achieved on the beneficiaries through an “IAI” approach, by focusing attention on Issue, Action and Impact. GlobalCAD directly tapped the beneficiaries based on contacts facilitated by UNESCO to obtain their testimonies and multimedia files related to the projects.*

Amanda Ortiz
Amanda Ortiz
Amanda is a Communications Intern for GlobalCAD.