Wired for Sound - Southern Africa Mobile Recording Studio

Wired for Sound on Voyage D’etudes

Wired for Sound is a mobile recording studio powered by the sun. After a year of research, testing and plotting we created a set up that means we can record wherever we find ourselves and in August September 2013 we found ourselves on the first of many journeys. Traveling over 12 000km for two and a half months, our team of three (Simon Attwell, Julio Sigauque of Freshlyground and radio producer, Kim Winter) crossed Northern Mozambique from the western border town of Catandica making our way east, moving as far up as Niassa Nature Reserve (one of the world’s last truly wild places) on the Tazanian border, to the coastal town of Pemba and Ilha de Mozambique. In partnership with community radio, meeting, jamming and recording with local artists, we want to create a more insightful and dynamic way of exploring a place and meeting the people who fill the space. Our intention is not traditionally ethnographic as the purpose is to discover the kinds of music being created now, in this moment. Capturing the kinds of experiences those we meet along the way are living in largely ‘difficult to access’ parts of the world.

OSISA (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa) and Freshlyground began a conversation around the possibilities for a music-centered project in Southern Africa a few years ago, and founding band member Simon Attwell spent a year working with SAfm producer Kim Winter to conceptualize a program that would be both meaningful to the participating musicians involved, and hopefully benefit their communities in the long term.

As a group of musicians and radio enthusiasts, we feel strongly about being a part of Africa’s shift to find it’s own narrative and sense of self. We want to boost the capabilities of our story tellers so that we can quench the thirst for African generated content and make sure the continent is inspired to create music and radio in our own way – not just following in the footsteps of the rest of the world. Music is a fine way to probe and illuminate people’s perceptions, start conversations and unravel stories.

We traveled to Mozambique a few times during the preparatory year, attending community radio conferences, meeting with local journalists, musicians and anthropologists – and from these conversations it emerged that North Mozambique has been less explored musically and geographically than the southern provinces. We wanted to be able to access remote places to see for ourselves how people (especially young people) express themselves and what kind of access they have to media and platforms for discussion and debate. An economic boom and big scale development in Mozambique have recently made headlines, and the intersection between this development and the effect it has on young people’s lives is a fascinating issue to explore. We traveled through Mozambique at a time where the old world meets the new, and as globalization broadens, you can’t help but think of your own history, the rituals or traditions that may define you – and question the importance of identity.

One of the challenges facing us on the road is language. Julio acted as a translator but is not always able to understand the local languages – sometimes we had three way conversations from English to Portuguese to a local language and back again, which can get interesting! The magic happens when we sit down with musicians and jam- we have ended up working across genders and backgrounds- with young musicians who are musically extremely talented and with some who may not be naturals but just love to sing or rap or who have local knowledge about more traditional music.

We try and spend at least a week in an area, interacting with local musicians who have established relationships with the community radio station, and following up leads on musicians from hearsay. Recording and production facilities in these areas are seriously limited or entirely absent. Good quality microphones, recording gear and editing suites are pretty much non-existent even for the community radio stations despite the enormous talent. So, given an opportunity to record a demo and have it played on air has been a big win for everyone involved, and subsequently finding musicians has not really been an issue!

However, we have been faced with some tough questions about how people’s lives can be changed or made better through this project. Fair questions, leading to lengthy discussions about how we can make this kind of project continuously work for the communities involved. It has been hard not to have all the answers now but we are creating an amazing network of young musicians and journalists as we go, who will be instrumental in designing a sustainable program – our plan is to focus on equipping our partner community radio stations so that they can provide quality resources to their local musicians and journalists. We will be implementing a mobile, solar powered recording set up at each radio station with work with – and we kick off with Malawi in February 2015.

Published January 2015 on Voyage D’etudes