Music is the Brain. Rhythm is the Heart

An Interview with Philippi Music Project

by Nicola van Straaten

I first met Baptiste and Lena hanging around outside one of the strangest gigs I’ve ever been to in Cape Town. I hear his French accent and zone in on him, clumsily greeting – “ca vuh?”

Baptiste and I start talking about France, food, music. Music… more music. (I’m getting the feeling this guy is passionate about music). He talks to me about the Philippi Music Project that he runs with his friend and colleague (or frolleague – hi urban dictionary!) by the name of Sibusiso Nyamakazi. It sounds interesting. A few days later we run into each other in Obs and next thing I know Baptiste is in our kitchen, casually making us all crepes, Lena is drawing pictures of sunflowers and making moves on our library and Sibusiso is telling us about the politicians and government officials he tweets at. A few nights later, we’re having an informal dinner of undercooked aubergine (badly-cooked by yours truly) and I ask them to introduce themselves and tell us a bit about their project.

***

“I’m from Philippi township, I’m a youth activist. I’m an MC, a rapper, poet, community developer. I also organize Social Poetics, which happens every second Saturday of the month.” Sibusiso continues to explain that he and Baptiste met in 2014 at the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation. The two became friends pretty quickly after Baptiste heard Sibusiso say the following:

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So on the weekends, the two would pack Baptiste’s studio into a backpack and go to Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and various townships just recording artists, mostly hip-hop music (since Sibusiso is well-connected in the hip hop community.) “We experienced many amazing recording sessions and recorded many, many incredible artists…” Baptiste adds.

Philippi Music Project came from the realization that music and artistry do not have to be delegated to celebrities, but that there are certain tools to actively create one’s own culture around music. The project is about creating meaningful access to those tools and starting to contribute to music and culture in the townships. From here, the two organized a contest and appealed to musicians to enter their tracks. They received over 100 entries and sent them to producers, labels and managers, asking them to select ten tracks to record into a compilation.

They could have recorded the album somewhere in Cape Town CBD and maybe have made one or two hits. Or they could have taken the risk, built a recording studio in a township and recorded the album there. They chose the latter. That way, the studio would remain in the township and continue to be used by artists in the area. To do this, they’d have to make this venture sustainable (this is where all Baptiste’s business training in handy).

So they are currently renting a container in Philippi Village. They have the designs to make the studio space ideal for recording music. Their crowd-funding campaign is hopefully going be up and running by the time this zine comes out in print. Having just received a Seed Fund for social innovation from South African Breweries (SAB) and in talks with partnering for Playing for Change, the project that they started in 2014 is becoming a reality. I ask about the future and neither are lacking vision:

“The studio is in a container, you know, it can be as crazy as putting the container on a bus and driving through Africa, recording many people. Or build containers all over the world, places where it would be needed… or pick a place on a map and listen to the music recorded in each container. Our vision is infinite!” Baptiste tells me. I’m certain that in six months they will put out their first album, recorded in their studio.

Sibusiso adds, “The Philippi Music Project is not there to revolutionize, but to be unique and play its own role.” His insight about the music industry is spot on: “An industry is a sphere where one project is being pushed… There’s a system. How do you participate in it?” All I can say is that with two individuals like these, with a bit of recording equipment and the Internet, anything is possible. To close off, I ask them their thoughts about rhythm. Sibusiso thinks a moment and then simply says (like Yoda or of some equivalent deep wisdom)…

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Images by Nicola van Straaten 

Google ‘Philippi Music Project’ and find them on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud. Or type their website address into your interwebz browser and find out more:
http://philippimusicproject.strikingly.com
If this project excites you then please tell your friends, spread the word, share the love and keep that music/brain and rhythm/ heart pumping. You can also add your voice to this incredible story by supporting their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. More info about that on their website and their Facebook page.

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