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Going beyond music

UPGRADING – Some of the participants during training

For a long time women have played second fiddle to men in a lot of disciplines and that includes the creative industry.

In the music industry, the past has seen female artists being relegated to playing vocals or dancing and not playing instruments let alone taking up roles in the production of music in the studio.

But the trend has now changed as today female artists are able to play vocals, dance as well as play instruments.

Today there are a number of female artists, who are on the ground showing the best of their exploits and stand toe to toe with male artists.

There are female artists such as Find Codi, who have expanded their territory to play instruments and show that female artists can do so much more in the music industry and not restrict themselves to vocals and dancing.

There are also bands such as Daughters – an all females group which is an arm of Music Crossroads Malawi and another all females group – Krazy Colours, who have been on the ground showing the best of women exploits.

It is in this vein that the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Arts Envoy Programme through the United States (US) Embassy has partnered with Nvak, an American non-profit organisation to provide year-round, in-person and remote lessons in songwriting, music production, audio engineering, marketing, and public relations to young female Malawians.

With a $55,000 grant from the State Department and additional funding provided by Madonna Ciccone’s non-profit, Raising Malawi, the programme, taking place in the country for the first time, runs from November 4 to November 21 at Music Crossroads Academy in Lilongwe.

The inaugural group of 17 talented female musicians are attending the free songwriting and production workshop, taught by a respected team of professional songwriting and production teachers.

Nvak has brought leading songwriters and producers from US to teach their craft and work with the students’ hands-on and recording music in the studio.

A press statement from US Embassy says the students are among others, learning songwriting, top-lining, production and basics of engineering as well as how to release music for a global stage.

The statement further says that each participant will write an original song, workshop the music with the staff, and complete a demo.

Having learnt more, the selected musicians from the group are expected to have the additional opportunity to have their original music produced by the visiting producers.

There is also the additional opportunity for the artists to perform their work live at a concert tomorrow afternoon at Latitude 13 in and then thereafter perform at Bingu International Conference Centre during the African Fashion and Arts Festival.

Nvak is a non-profit organisation that discovers, mentors, and teaches young singers, songwriters, and producers around the globe using music as a tool for teenagers and young adults to find their voices and amplify their stories beyond their countries’ borders.

The organization said it was committed to bringing underrepresented stories into mainstream American music and providing a unique perspective on global culture through the universal language of music.

Nvak was founded in 2015 by singer-songwriter Tamar Kaprelian, a first-generation Armenian- American.

After signing to RCA Records at the age of 18, and Interscope Records at the age 21, Tamar became discouraged by the lack of good mentorship and the common practice of people in positions of power taking advantage of young talent in the industry.

She said in an exclusive interview that music was a powerful tool for self-expression and that it was both cathartic and healing.

“We believe that by teaching musicians how to write original songs and empowering them to produce these songs that they will be more self-confident, well-adjusted young adults who are better able to cope with life’s difficulties,” Tamar said.

The founder said Nvak goes beyond music and that it forms strongly bonded communities where none existed otherwise.

“While we did not seek out in selecting an all-female group of musicians in Malawi, the female musicians definitely stood out more. It only felt natural to accept them. That said, I think an all-female space creates openness and an energy that has never been present in past iterations of the programming that included all genders,” Tamar said.

Tamar said establishing safe spaces where people feel comfortable to be themselves was a huge part of their work.

“Nvak is four-years-old. In addition to Malawi, we operate in Armenia and Israel. We choose markets that lack access and resources and create hyper-local programming for each,” the founder said.

Furthermore, Tamar, said they knew that they wanted their third market to be in Africa but were not sure which country they wanted to go to.

“I had a few in mind. But a friend of mine who was working at Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation insisted that I consider Malawi as one of our potential markets. That is when I got introduced to Virginia Palmer – who was the American Ambassador to Malawi at that time. Thanks to her and her belief in our work,” Tamar said.

The founder said Nvak was a year-round programme where they have an operations manager who works to help them recruit musicians; helps with artist development as well as with the activation of the local community.

“We leave recording gear and instruments behind so that the Nvak community can make music (for free) whenever they want. We provide one-on-one lessons; mentorships; funding. We also release original music through our joint-venture partnership with Warner Music.

Not only do we seek to educate and create opportunities, but we also aim to empower musicians – especially women and girls – and to help them tell their unique stories,” the founder said.

Tamar said Nvak Malawi was the favorite market to date and that working with Malawian musicians had been both humbling and inspiring.

“These women work so hard; learn so quickly; and are incredibly positive. I am excited about the work that we are doing now and I am equally excited about taking the work to the next level in 2020,” Tamar said.

The founder said Nvak was happy to collaborate with Music Crossroads this year and that they were looking forward to strategising ways that they could help them both from a programming and funding perspective moving forward.

“I think that without the help of strategic partners and believers, it is impossible to pull off this type of work. I am thankful that the US Embassy in Malawi and Raising Malawi believed in me and in the possibilities of what Nvak Malawi could become,” Tamar said.

Music Crossroads Malawi which has since made a call for applications for artists to apply for enrolment in the January programme, said they were happy with the project.

“We have been dreaming this, we started the process, confirming the desire that we should do more to empower female artists,” Mathews Mfune, Music Crossroads Malawi Director, said.

Mfune said the market has a few female producers and that the training would help to train more female producers in the country.

“It is all about breaking this norm that music production is only for males, females can do it and that has been shown where we have females playing instruments. We have Daughters Band for example,” he said.

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