Social Entrepreneurship: Tobias Sturmer, Artistic Director for Empowerment Works
As part of our commitment to highlight social entrepreneurship in Africa, the Cheetah Index brings you this interview with Tobias Sturmer-Artistic Director of Empowerment Works Music.
Before going into the interview here is an excerpt from Empowerment Works that describes Tobias's background:
"Tobias Sturmer is an ethnomusicologist, producer, social entrepreneur, musician, composer and educator living in London, UK and Cologne, Germany. Originally from Germany, he has lived in Dominican Republic, USA, Senegal and Venezuela, studying music and culture, teaching and performing.
Since arriving in London in 1998, he has acquired an MA in Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. He performs professionally on the London Jazz, Latin and African music scene as well as on the contemporary dance scene. T.S. has been running a non-profit artist support scheme in Senegal and Uganda since 2002. The aim of his work has been to 1) encourage cultural and economic development of African communities by providing African musicians with tools for self-reliance, and 2) to document and to enhance the cultural heritage of musical traditions in Africa."
1.How were you able to make the connection between traditional African music and economic empowerment?
Empowerment Works have been involved in a wide range of programs that aim to empower people in Africa; we are running a large number of projects there. My contribution is being the artistic director of our music department, called EW Music. So my personal angle to development work in Africa is coming from a cultural point of view, rather than an economic one, even though the two are obviously linked in the idea of empowering others. Basically I think that if you strengthen cultural values, identity and inspiration you strengthen everything else.
To understand and to evaluate the work EW Music is doing one has to look at what music means in these particular communities where we are present:
The Diola people who live in the Casamance region of Senegal are culturally marginalized as well as they are geographically cut off from the rest of the country. The music scene in Senegal is almost entirely centered around Dakar and even there, one can't buy Diola music .
All the musicians we record would otherwise never have a chance of being recorded within Senegal. They are locally performing musicians who don’t have the means to travel to a studio and also, they have no recording experience.
There is a connection between music, culture and economic development because one of the main problems in Casamance is that the young people do not want to stay in the villages, so they leave for the big cities.
So we try to contribute on a cultural basis to these villages by recording their musicians for free, as well as making and designing the covers of the cassettes for them as the cassette is still the main medium for music. Our approach towards empowerment means that we don't do the manufacturing and distribution for the artists, they must do it themselves; we simply facilitate the master. Also, we don’t have the capacity to manufacturer 100 copies or more for each of the many artists who work with us. On the whole, this is a young project and it still requires more funding. Right now, we are looking for funding partners because although we now have produced our first compilation CD La Musique Diola Volume 1, we still need the funds to present this inspiring project idea to the world…. and the music to the radio stations in Senegal.
2.Do you have plans to take this fair market project to other parts of Africa or will you continue to focus upon the Casamance region of Senegal and Luwero, Uganda?
We will absolutely go to other regions. Casamance is close to my heart since I lived there for one year. But this project can be taken everywhere. Next stop is going to be in Ghana. I will be recording artists in Ghana and take our London based Hi Life Band Yaaba Funk to Ghana to collaborate and learn from local musicians. We will make the resulting music available in the West and have a good part of the proceeds go to projects supporting those very artists.
We also have good contacts with Eritrea, and we are looking to do a musical festival in Burundi ( the Great Lakes Project) to help put communication back on track between ethnic groups who were on opposite sides during the genocide that took place in 1993. In the run up to the festival I have the capacity to produce about 12 unsigned bands, who would then have their CD to sell at the festival. This is taking into account our current budgetary constraints. We aspire to bring out another compilation CD featuring all 12 bands and because of the effect that the genocide had on women of the Great Lakes Region we are also planning another compilation dedicated to women and children issues. Right now we are in the planning stages of this very ambitious project.
Bare in mind that each project we do comes with its own agenda as music means something different in each place. For instance, in the Great Lakes there are communities sitting on opposite sides of the genocide experience who haven't communicated since the 90's and we believe that now, through the music, we can help to bridge that communication divide. Compare that with Casamance, where we produced the music of one single culturally marginalized society.
We are approached by so many musicians and journalists through the INTERNET, saying, "we need your project here or there", but right now, all that I can tell them is to send me letters and references stating that they need this project there and I will see if we can get funding to come to your region.
3.Have you been able to see a difference in the musicians livelihoods as a result of them participating in the Empowerment Works Music fair market project?
Unfortunately, because we are still in midst of funding I haven't been able to go back to see what has taken place since we left. But from what the musicians are telling me the project has helped them a lot and they all want to work with us again. Even if only a few CD's are sold it makes a huge difference in the lives of the musicians. For many musicians the artistic aspect is also important and they are pleased that someone is taking their art serious and that they can promote their sound and get credit for it. After all we are also bringing their work to the West.