In a new partnership, Tostan and Community Voice International (CVI) are working together with Tostan Community Management Committees  (CMC) in Senegal – democratically-selected groups trained  to implement development projects – to help facilitate their goals through the production and sale of local traditional music.  Community Voice International partners with communities to record their music, sell the recordings online, and then return 100 percent of the proceeds to further the community’s development efforts.  Participants in Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP), and CMCs specifically, are trained in the project management skills necessary to implement development projects, making them ideal CVI partners. 

Tostan Senegal’s Development Support Project Manager, Dame Guèye, and Volunteer, Kaela McConnon, traveled with the Executive Director of CVI, David Bleckley, from June 13-23 to meet with community members and record music in five villages in five different regions of Senegal.  The Tostan team planned a diverse itinerary, covering large distances across Senegal and recording music sung in five different local languages including Bambara, Pulaar, Soniké, Mandinka, and Wolof. Recordings took place in the communities of Soudiane in the Fatick region, Thielau in the St. Louis region, Yelingara in the Bakel region, Dar Salaam in the Kolda region, and Keur Bakary in the Kaolack region.

Before and after every session, David and Tostan team members explained the partnership between Tostan, CVI, and local communities and how the recording and financial proceeds would be managed.  Community members were encouraged to ask questions, and musicians and CMC members signed a contract with CVI, ensuring that they would receive all proceeds from the music and would use these profits for development projects.  

Music styles varied greatly between communities with some focused more on singing, others on drums, and others still on acoustic instrumentation.  Musicians varied from griots, traditional musical storytellers, to well-known musicians such as Dema Dia from Thielau, Senegal who just returned from a world tour.  Communities focused on a variety of topics in their lyrics concerning the traditions, strengths, and struggles in their community.  The village of Thielau, deep in a region of Senegal that has a desert-like climate, sang about the dangers of drought and solutions they have found.  Dar Salaam community members sang about their participation in the Reinforcement of Parental Practices Module of Tostan’s CEP, focusing on the rights of children and how they should be treated.  Keur Bakary sang a traditional song used to praise a community member for being a good person and doing good deeds. 

Each of the five communities performed at least one song about marriage and many acted out the ceremony as they sang. All song titles and descriptions were documented and will be included in all recordings sold by Community Voice International, raising awareness and appreciation for the culture of these communities. 

Community members were enthusiastic to share their music, and recording sessions attracted not only the musicians and CMC members but community members from all walks of life.  Children crowded in every corner, many of them singing and clapping along with the songs.  Local Tostan staff members attended as well, helping with translation and sometimes even participating in the music themselves.   Participants danced in every village and encouraged Tostan and CVI staff to join in. 

CVI has already started producing and arranging the recordings.  They plan to release the music in fall 2013 in two forms: on a track-by-track basis with single tracks from all communities and in the form of a compilation, including 2-3 tracks from each village visited.  Both individual songs and the compilation will be available for online purchase.  All money earned from these sales will be returned directly to the CMCs in the five villages, who can use it to fund any project that benefits the whole community and promotes development.  Because communities do not yet know the amount of money they will receive from these recordings, they have yet to pinpoint particular projects but expressed interest in using the money for microfinance funds, improving local health structures, and increasing agriculture efficiency. 

For further updates on recordings and release dates, please visit the Community Voice International website.   

View more photos from the recording sessions in our Flickr photostream!