At Bollo Brook Youth Centre we have run two international music exchange projects, which youth groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and New York. These are exciting opportunities to bring young people around the world together, to share experiences and youth work practice, and create great music together. The idea first came about when we made contact with a youth group based in Kivu, in the east of DRC. Despite constant militia incursions and general instability, the interests and aspirations of the young people they were working with were not dissimilar to those in London, and music played a central place in their lives. We decided try to make a track together, and two years later released an album. We hope this guide will help you to do similar projects with your young people.
1. Finding a partner
Finding the right partner for your organisation is very important. If you put ‘youth project in name of country’ into any search engine, chances are you’ll either draw a blank or end up with major organisations, or maybe national agencies. For smaller, neighbourhood projects, these might not be suitable – it helps if the partner organisation has similar values and works on a similar scale to yours. So how to find grass roots organisations that may not have websites? Firstly select a region of city that you think you would like to work with. If a general search engine search doesn’t help, the first port of call may be the youth ministry of equivalent. They may have a list of youth projects with contact details. Secondly the local university may be able to help. Do they have a youth work course? The lecturers may be able to direct you to grass roots projects. Going on holiday is also a great way to start! Ask local young people where they go and what there is for them to do. Remember, many countries do not have funded youth services, so you may end up working with informal groups.
2. Getting the partner interested
The main point here is to be patient. You probably won’t receive answers to the majority of your emails. This is normal. Projects may be under-resourced, simply not interested or wary of collaborations. If you can send example of music made at your project, this may help prove you are serious. Obviously language can be a barrier. It is always best where possible to approach organisations in the language of the region. Especially in smaller organisations, the person receiving the email may not speak English (this can often be overcome as the project progresses).
3. Establishing the project
Once you have a partner organisation that is interested, the next stage is to work out what you can offer each other. Each international exchange project will be different, depending on the specialities of the organisations and the tastes of the young people. For our DRC project we were largely responsible for the making of instrumentals, as our facilities were better, whilst they did the majority of choruses.
4. Setting goals
It is important to know what it is you are looking to achieve from the project, whilst also acknowledging that this may change. It is vital to maintain regular contact with the partner organisation, as lack of physical presence can mean that projects drift as more immediate pressures take precedence. You may just want to try to make one song to start off with. Remember that the most important thing is the experience of the young people. You may want to get them involved in discussions with their peers in the partner organisation, and other projects may come out of this.
5. The practicalities
To share materials, set up a file sharing account (with Dropbox or Google Drive, for example). These are usually free for small quantities – this should be enough for the project, though you may have to remove finished materials. When you share materials, always inform the partner organisation that you have done so. It may help to set deadline of when you expect to hear back. You need to decide who will have responsible for producing the track – which organisation has the greater capacity for this and how do you decide a track is finished? If recording vocals to individual instruments, make sure the whole stem (the entire length of the track) is shared – it can take a long time to find where exactly adlibs should sit in a track otherwise.
6. Again, be patient
Things happen. The studio of our partners in DRC was looted. One of the rappers was tragically killed. On a lighter note, young people can be unreliable. You may be waiting for that finish verse for a while. As long as you continue to communicate with each other, then do not panic. Try not to set end dates for projects that are unrealistic. Both of our projects have lasted two years. That was never what we expected!
7. What next?
Once you have completed the project, you need to decide what to do with it. I’ve you release it, who will master it? Who will produce the cover art? How will it be promoted? These are all questions to be taken jointly with the partner organisation. You may want to make a music video together, continue straight into a follow up album, or even go and visit them…