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News & Topics
January 23, 2017

MOMRI Report from the International Seminar on Music and Social Transformation

Bogota, Colombia, October 4-7, 2016 by Craig Robertson

Early October was an incredible time to participate in an international conference on music and social transformation in Bogota, Colombia. I arrived one day before the national referendum on the peace process and the city was alive with excitement. This excitement turned to despair and dread when the referendum failed. The mood turned to defiance and optimism again a few days later when tens of thousands of people turned out for a public demonstration of solidarity and desire for peace, regardless of how anyone voted. Finally, on the final day, and the day that I presented a keynote speech, the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which gave him a large internationally supported mandate to continue to broker a peace deal between not only the government and FARQ, but the right-wing paramilitary groups that had been previously uninvolved in the process. The conference itself was exciting, informative and , most importantly, very useful in terms of contacts. I will break this report into the following sections:

 

1)  Connections and promotion of Min-On/MOMRI within Bogota and Latin America.
2)  Connections for future collaborations within the UK
3)  Developments

 

Connections and promotion of Min-On/MOMRI within Bogota and Latin America

I was interviewed for a music activism blog and for a Youtube broadcast. I have been informed that these are on popular sites that has audiences from all over Colombia and Latin America.

 

Not only was the conference about music and social change, it was also the 25th anniversary of Batuta, which was originally inspired by El Sistema. While there was some evidence of similar issues around orchestral music and social change that El Sistema suffers from, as explored by Geoff Baker amongst others, Batuta shows encouraging signs of listening to the needs and cultural expressions at a localised contextually specific level. This is exemplified in the variety of projects that they engage with, including providing platforms for the growth and support of indigenous musics.

 

After my speech, one of the organisers and three major practitioners approached me to say that they felt that my presentation was the most important one made during the event, since it challenged the motivations and modus operandi of the projects that they were involved in. We participated every afternoon with practitioners, academics and representatives of the Ministry of Culture to workshop on ideas on how to shape future cultural policy. In my opinion there was too much demonstration of past work rather than working towards the future, but I think some of the concepts that MOMRI have been developing recently inspired some debate, at the very least.

 

Connections for future collaborations within the UK/Europe

The event was co-sponsored by the British Council, and UK was well represented. I was inspired by a number of people who are doing incredible work in the area of music and social change. Some, especially Musicians Without Borders, based in Amsterdam, explicitly deal with music and peacebuilding, but most were more localised forms of social change, such as prisons, community development, disability inclusion, and so on. I had a great deal of inspiring conversations with many of these representatives and they were all very interested in our research and possible collaborations or knowledge sharing. These organisations included:

 

•   Musicians Without Borders
•   Streetwise Opera
•   Beyond Skin
•   Drake Music
•   Music in Prisons
•   Para-orchestra

 

In addition, the British Council has a mandate and a budget to develop ties with cultural programmes in the developing world, and they are very interested in music as an agent for social change.

 

Developments

Since returning from the conference, I have had a number of fruitful discussions and meetings with some of the above organisations.

 

a)Musician Without Borders and the School of African and Oriental Studies had a workshop in December to discuss ways to properly assess and evaluate music and peacebuilding work, to which I was invited. I made a strong case for how practitioner organisations often do not have the capacity to achieve this properly and that partnerships with academic researchers could enable them to gain access to this capacity as well as increase the scholarship on music and peacebuilding.

 

b) I have had a good discussion with Matt Peacock, the director of Streetwise Opera. Streetwise Opera is a national UK charity that works with professional opera practitioners and homeless people to develop and perform largescale operatic works together in order to develop self-esteem and confidence in these vulnerable people, who often are inspired to develop paths to get off the streets after participation It is a very well organised charity and they already have a well-established assessment and evaluation framework, although they still lack the rigorous ethnographic longitudinal data that I suggested would be useful to Musicians Without Borders. One of the major things they have been engaged with is participating in Cultural Olympiads and working with homeless in the cities that host the Olympics. They have already conducted successful projects in London and Rio and are currently planning for Tokyo 2020. Streetwise Opera are already in contact with academics in Kyoto but they are very interested in seeing how a collaboration with Min-On/MOMRI would work.

 

c) I have had a fruitful discussion with the director of Drake Music, who work with music technology and people with disabilities in order to boost their esteem and confidence and increase social inclusion of these often marginalised people. We discussed two potential future projects. One was that they have a national UK mandate but they do not have the capacity to deliver their work in and around Leeds. Another project idea was developing a pilot project to see how their practice and our theories of music and peacebuilding might fruitfully inform each other.

 

d) I participated in the Mitchell Institute roundtable on Music, Language and the Arts: Protest, Empowerment and Healing in Belfast in December which was organised by Olivier Urbain and Fiona Magowan at Queens University. In addition to the roundtable, which itself was interesting and useful, I had very interesting conversations with Professor Magowan who is doing collaborative research on similar organizations, including Musicians Without Borders, Drake Music and Beyond Skin.

 

video of my keynote speech and ensuing discussions:

 

Blog:

 

– This blog mentions that my speech was “cayó como anillo al dedo”, which I think means that was what was exactly needed at the right time, which just happened to be right after everyone found out that President Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize.