Nietzsche’s nugget of wisdom, “Without music life would be a mistake,” is one of those succinct phrases that seems to rear its head habitually on social media these days. It’s sadly in danger of becoming another over-used inspirational quote.
But cliché as it may be, there is of course a reason why it resonates so strongly. A life without music would at least be dull, if not a mistake. And for some, a life without music just wouldn’t be life at all.
It’s no surprise then that the relatively recent occurrence, sometimes referred to as the “democratization” of music production, is hailed as a welcome advancement. A life imbued with the magic of music need not be constrained to avid consumption.
Home-recording studios that used to cost an incredible amount of money have become relatively cheap and accessible. And social media platforms now provide the opportunity to circulate music in a way previously impossible for the common man.
The “democratization” of music only applies to relatively privileged segments of society.
Yet one side of the discussion is all too often ignored. The “democratization” of music only applies to relatively privileged segments of society. And as consumption of music escalate,s the underprivileged represent a tiny and tinier section of a decidedly skewed market.
Both the skills and the equipment needed to produce and circulate music still remain out of bounds for many.
To help close this equality gap, Charity Fairtunes Colombia is humbly throwing its two pennies worth.
The organization – part of the London-based Charity Fairtunes – aims to “use the power of music and media to enhance people’s lives in developing nations and in the U.K.”
Fairtunes has established a permanent presence in both Bogotá and the town of El Salado in the northern department of Cordoba. It provides training and support for musicians in areas related to production, recording, industry skills and community radio, with a special emphasis on emerging artists.
With little funding, the initiative has nonetheless carried out a number of noble projects with diverse Colombian cultural groups, from the Embera indigenous of Chocó and Risaralda to inner city Bogotá hip hop artists.
Heavily relying on the voluntary work of a dedicated team of producers, musicians, and arts managers, the foundation has stubbornly ploughed ahead despite a number of setbacks.
It has even managed to produce two albums nominated for best folklore album at the Shock Music Awards, Colombia’s largest annual music award ceremony.
Project director, Francisco Rojas, recognizes that while they didn’t manage to win an award “it helped them receive valuable attention”.
Laying the foundation
British music producers Nick Minton and Jon Lost conceived of the idea for Fairtunes back in 2009 and constructed a fully functioning music studio at the underground Chapinero music venue Latino Power.
The studio was operational the following year thanks to the help of British and local volunteers and a generous donation from the Strummerville foundation, a charity founded in the memory of The Clash drummer Joe Strummer after his death in 2002.
Fairtunes soon established its second base in El Salado, sadly a town most known for a horrendous paramilitary massacre back in 2000. Working alongside local NGOs dedicated to the town’s recuperation from this unforgettable trauma, Fairtunes set up a successful local community radio station, which also functions as a recording studio.
It was here in El Salado that Carmelo Torres, the acclaimed accordionist from San Jacinto, began his association with Fairtunes, a relationship that culminated in his first solo recorded album in 2013 and a Shock award nomination in 2015. After 50-odd years of musicianship, this was a huge achievement for both Fairtunes and Carmelo.
Chronicling change through music
Another successful and ongoing project has been the foundation’s work with the indigenous Embera community, many of whom were forcibly displaced as a result of the conflict. Displaced Embera have found themselves struggling to survive both culturally and economically in dangerous and rundown areas of Bogotá’s centre.
In the midst of such debilitating change, the effort to strengthen their cultural roots has become crucial. With the help of Fairtunes, they have gained access to skills and equipment otherwise out of reach, an important step towards empowerment in such a disempowering environment.
Their work with the Embera led to an important cultural documentation in the form of a recorded album, and Fairtunes even managed to stage a concert in the Embera community in Chocó
As Francisco Rojas explained,“the experience was great, as we adapted and learnt from the Embera’s distinct concept of time and their culturally different way of approaching the work.”
An exploration of Fairtunes’ webpage reveals the names of a plethora of glamorous musicians and producers: Joe Strummer, Asian Dub Foundation, as well as a number of UK and Colombian DJs.
While these well-known figures make valuable contributions to the organization’s development, it’s the dedicated work of the behind-the-scene volunteers, and beneficiaries themselves, that has built and continues to push forward the initiative.
They have their work cut out for them, but as the mainstream music industry becomes more and more homogenous and leaves less and less room for cultural and economic minorities, organizations like Fairtunes become even more indispensable.
Life without music is a mistake, but the gradual loss of traditional music genres and the unheard voice of many Colombian musicians, is an untold tragedy.