Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Southern Alignment?

See full size imageMark Schultz and Alec van Gelder published a paper late last year called "Nashville in Africa."  (Afro-Leo reported on it here and here.)  The pair are currently in Nashville, having spent two days presenting on their paper and working to build alliances in the Nashville music industry.  So far, the Country Music Association seems to at least be fairly open to Schultz and van Gelder's ideas.

The authors spoke Monday at Vanderbilt University Law School to a group of law students and professors, and Tuesday at the Leadership Music Digital Summit at Belmont to folks from the music industry.  The reason for focusing on Nashville: central Tennessee, in the early 20th century, was very much like many places in Africa - malaria cases and all.  The area's living standard was far below the rest of the country; hopes for development were placed on exploitation of natural resources like minerals; and various government aid projects were implemented to try to support the population.  Yet, there was music and creativity, untapped, low-overhead, resources.  With a little bit of ingenuity and risk, a few talents, and the cooperation of a lot of people, Nashville emerged as Music City USA.

Schultz and van Gelder believe that music industries in Africa can learn from and adapt this model.  They aren't just talking about piracy here, although that is an issue.  They are also talking about creating record labels, developing artists, producing music in the respective countries (instead of London or Paris) and utilizing collective management.  In sum, building creative clusters, areas to which all the different parts of a music industry can come and nurture each other and grow.

A lot of music industries in Africa are already doing these things, but not necessarily well, and few places have all aspects functioning properly.  That's where modern-day Nashville comes in.  Experts from Nashville's music industry can help their African counterparts build upon the skills they already have, focusing on the needs of the African industry but utilizing the knowledge of the Nashville experts.  (This Little Leo happens to think this model sounds very similar to the US Peace Corps model for work in Africa and other developing areas.)  Then African music industries will grow and establish vibrant creative centers for their country.  These creative centers will create jobs directly related to the music industry, as well as spark developments in ancillary industries in the area.

It's a grand idea, obviously fraught with hurdles.  But, Schultz and van Gelder recognize these hurdles; they are very common: corrupt government, lacking infrastructure, etc.  The authors hope to continue their research in Africa and explore possibilities for helping African music industries stabilize and become national and global economic players.  One piece of encouragement the authors find is in a similarity between Nashville's history and the history of Zambia's Mondo Music beginning after the Copyright Law revamping in the mid 1990s.  This could be the perfect place to start.

In Nashville, the biggest hurdle appears to be Americans' perceptions of Africa: war and poverty and nothing more.  A Summit participant from the music industry asked the authors if anyone in Africa even cares about copyright laws.  'After all', she said, 'Sudan doesn't even care that their people are dying from war.'

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