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Interview: How YIAGA AFRICA uses music as tool for Political Participation, Democracy

Sets September 2019 for Music Album Launch

Music has over the years remained a rallying force in driving people to action; it has remained a powerful communication tool, which in the words of Matt Haig; “…makes you feel emotions that you didn’t necessarily know you had inside you, and runs around waking them all up. A rebirth of sorts.” Within the continent, music has remained a powerful source of inspiration motivating citizens action, be it in the fight against military regimes, dictatorial governments or in the struggle for democracy and even the fight for freedom. Music remains that centrepiece with the power to connect a diverse people by telling unifying stories or inspiring a collective action. 

In this era of democratic renewal, as more countries in Africa, especially in West Africa continue on their journey to democracy and building an inclusive society with a people driven democratic agenda, soulful voices from Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Benin, and Gambia convened in Dakar, Senegal to produce a music album as a tool for engaging with African youths on democracy.

An initiative of YIAGA AFRICA, a civic hub of change makers committed to supporting sustainable democracies in Africa, in partnership with the Ford Foundation and World Movement for Democracy (WMD), is designed to foster that rebirth; a reawakening in the people, driven by a vibrant collaboration between the artistes and civil society members to counter anti-democracy narratives, advance next generation civic engagement, and build solidarity across West Africa. 

We had a sit down with the senior program officer of the youth department, Ibrahim Faruk, to highlight everything from the planning process to the production of the music album that will be used as a tool to create better awareness for democracy.

Ibrahim Faruk, Senior Program Officer, YIAGA AFRICA

Despite the busy time in YIAGA AFRICA, from hosting a conversation on the future of democracy in Ethiopia, to the learning visit and meeting in Senegal how prepared is your team for the shooting of the ground-breaking music album in Senegal? 

The YIAGA AFRICA team are always prepared and in the spirit of disruption, which is our mantra, the meeting in Senegal with musicians, civil society and democratic movements from across the west-African sub-region, serves as the major intro to the writing, recording and production of some music with the musicians.

Are the selected artists publicly named or the names are still under wraps?

Yes and No. We have Cill Soul from Nigeria and are currently working with others, who cannot be named now so look forward in anticipation. All the way from Gambia are Killa Ace and Awa Bling, then we have Master Soumy and Ami from Mali, Elom 20ce from Togo, Moonya from Benin Republic, and Y’en a Marre from Senegal.

YIAGA AFRICA, during a meeting with West-African artists on music and democracy

What was the selection process like for this meeting and music recording?

Well for us, we needed a story from the region and Y’en a Marre came to mind. Y’en a Marre (which in English translates to ‘Fed Up’) is a group of young musicians and journalists, who successfully inspired the ousting their former president in Senegal who was bidding for a third term in office in 2012. You know ours is such a rich continent and we are learning to look inwards and find that story that can spur us to action. Y’en a Marre holds a positive significance to this initiative and it was one of the reasons Dakar, Senegal was chosen as the venue for this meeting, so that the other organizations who come, can also learn from them, in terms of using music, and working with civil society and building a movement around that.

It is actually very important when we look at some of the countries that were chosen, because, for instance, there’s an on-going protest in Togo, in a bid to remove the president because he has overstayed his constitutional term limit. We also made selections from Gambia because organisations including musicians and civil society members were able to build the consciousness of a lot of young people, especially when Yahya Jammeh lost elections and he refused to step down. At the time, there was a campaign called ‘Gambia has decided’.

In addition, Mali has a very strong musical community or environment, music is an integral part of their lives…of course Nigeria too I mean, this is the home of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. But just because these are the countries that are currently participating doesn’t mean that the Album won’t be obtainable or used across West Africa. And if you can see, we have francophone and anglophone countries to represent our diversity. So we can also share different experiences from different countries, as we work together with movements, musicians, and civil society around accountability, participation, anti-corruption, basically around social issues that affect young people most especially, but affect the entire society too.

So the intention is to use music as an easily accessible medium to sensitize the youths?

Yes…so using Music as a messenger for democracy. The Album will be centred around themes related to democracy, including democratic participation, holding elected leaders accountable…accountability is closely tied to anti-corruption, you know, so anti-corruption messaging, civic engagement…ensuring that it is not just voting every 4 or 5 years but that it is also important to get involved in all the other activities through the electoral cycle, and ensure that you are engaged throughout.

So aside from producing the music Album, what are your other expectations? 

So the music album first of all is a tool for engagement. We’ll continue to work with our partners across the West African sub region to use the music that will be produced, to reach out to many other young people. We are also reaching out to university communities to work with student artists who can contribute verses to the songs in the album. The student communities across the country are a very important cohort in the movement for democratic development and we believe that more young people will connect to the music as a message for democracy and become change agents. 

What will be the production process of the album, as regards studio sessions, and the relationship between CSOs, the artistes and even the music engineer?

So we have a studio that we are working with in Dakar: Waliyaane Studio, they also produce music for Y’en a Marre. Since we are already going to be in Dakar for the meeting, we decided to take advantage of having the musicians in one place. So Waliyaane studio will be helping to collate, produce, mix and master the album, while our partners will mainly be responsible for disseminating it in their different countries.

The studio has prepared some demo tracks, which has been shared with all the musicians, and we’ve already told them that they need to start coming up with some lyrics. Production will kick-off on June 29th, and the songs will be produced in Bambara, Wolof, French and English. What the meeting will also help to do is, yunno, give them a better understanding of what the project hopes to achieve, and the kind of messages we want to see come out in their music. We also have civil society members who can tell the musicians, for example, “oh this message probably won’t resonate or this isn’t exactly what we want….” This is essentially why we have that partnership with them.

The studio will record for the musicians who are not based in Senegal first; since we have one day. But all the musicians also have the chance to go back, and if they want, to send in additional vocals or do their recording from where they are and send it to the studio. That is also possible. 

Is there like a set date when the album is going to be out?

We are looking towards September, at least, to have everything ready before the launch of the album.