Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference

The Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference is a two-day conference taking place on 1 and 2 April in Cape Town. It aims to share information between people involved in all spheres of the African music industry through a series of workshops, panel discussions, presentations and exhibition stands. There will also be a networking lounge an a concert showcasing the best of Africa's musical talent. 

I caught up with Trenton Birch, Founder of Black Mango Music and Founder and Director of the Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference to talk about the growth of the African music industry, the challenges his team faced in putting the event together, and music apartheid in South Africa.

Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference team outside Cape Town City Hall. from left, standing, Thabo Mobo, Trenton Birch, Shameema Williams; seated, Daniella Nathoo; on the ground, Marco Wielander. PHOTO: Black Mango

 Why did you feel there was a need to start a music conference like this?
I spent a number of years in London immersed in the UK industry and pushing SA music into Europe and I started to see a big increase in interest in music coming out of Africa, especially South Africa. I've been back two years now and while the industry is growing fast, we are incredibly fragmented and there is no unity. The world is waiting for us to step up but to do that we need to [be] a lot more organised and trained to support the great artists coming out of the country. I have, and always will be, deeply passionate about African music and believe it has such power to unite and empower Africa. I put the idea to our team and they jumped all over it.   

Being the inaugural conference, what challenges did you face in organizing the event?
The usual challenges of running a first time event have been experienced. Getting sponsors on board is the toughest because the event doesn't have a track record. But we've been lucky that SAE Institute Cape Town and Markham took a leap with us and we have so much industry support we know that it can only grow from here.

Why do you think the African music industry still lacks the skills and network of our international counterparts?
There is lack of real training in Music Business. Most people fall into it and learn as they go along. Also a lot of people get into the industry for the wrong reason. They think it’s one big party and while it is certainly a fun industry to work in, it is also very complex and you have to work really hard to make things happen. We are getting better all the time but we need to try harder. Artists also have a role to play and need to school and empower themselves in the business side of things. It’s no longer acceptable to be an artist without some sort of knowledge of how things work. 

"It's our strength that has become our weakness." 

The conference also strives to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. How will it help the three charities that you have selected?
We are working with local community groups and charities to ensure young people on the ground working in the industry are getting exposed to knowledge. They are the future and [are] too easily forgotten. So the role of the conference is to facilitate music business dialogue but also help people grow and learn through knowledge transfer.
Our workshops are under the banner "Empowering Your Art" and supported by our educational partner SAE Institute who are a global creative media technology school with a huge legacy in education is this space. They are aimed at young people wanting to get into the industry and up-skilling those who are already working in the industry but need more practical knowledge. They are hands on and embrace the rapidly changing industry.

Siyabonga Mtembu of The Brother Moves On spoke at the Moshito Music Conference last year, saying that SA music festivals, promotors, record labels and music media make "racial assumptions" all the time. Do you agree with what he said? How do you think are solutions to this music apartheid?
Absolutely agree. Our industry is still polarised by race and genre and we need to get over ourselves and embrace the diversity that we have here. It’s our strength but has become our weakness. The solution is for everyone to start opening their minds and letting go of pre- conceived ideas that have been pumped into our heads via cultural colonisation. And if we can't get ourselves together to break these barriers down how can we expect the general public to do so?

For more information about ticket prices and the panel discussion schedule, visit the Breathe Sunshine African Music Conference website and their Facebook page. 

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