Ruha Devanesan
Peace Tones

As the most populous city in Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya has many of the problems of any large city (crime, substandard housing, poverty, etc.), and is also at the center of a nation divided by ethnic strife and a vast disparity between those that have much and those that have very little.  These issues came to a head with the Presidential elections in December 2007, which led to large-scale conflict, including between protesters and police.  The violence was most acute in the poorest neighborhoods of Nairobi, including the slums of Kibera, Mathare and Babandogo.

PeaceTones' Songs of Justice: Music to Empower Kenya project seeks to address many of the challenges at the heart of these conflicts: 1) the inability of individuals to express themselves and be heard, the failure of which often leads to violence and vigilante justice; 2) a lack of government transparency and accountability to the public; 3) the prevalence of politician-sponsored propagandistic and often inciting musical content; 4) the lack of independent counter-voices for peace and dialogue; and 5) knowledge and market access barriers for those with positive, constructive social justice oriented messages. 

We plan on executing the following three goals through the Songs of Justice project:

  1. Conduct legal and marketing workshops for musicians in Kibera, Mathare and Babadogo slums
  2. Organize inter-tribal and inter-slum peace concerts with musical activists in our three target communities
  3. Mentor a group of talented, original artists with positive messages as PeaceTones Ambassadors

Working with local partners, PeaceTones will hold legal, marketing, technology, and social justice workshops for musicians in low-income communities across Nairobi (in the slums of Babandogo, Mathare and Kibera). Topics will range from basic contracts and intellectual property law to social networking and the latest ICT platforms, to the power of music for engagement and addressing social issues.  Workshops will involve games, role-playing, and stories to create an engaging, non-threatening environment. 

These workshops will take place in conjunction with a series of peace concerts given in each of our three target communities by musical activists identified by and partnered with PeaceTones.  The aim of the concerts is two-fold: to promote positive and unifying messages within the target communities and also to publicize the PeaceTones workshops and contests.

As part of the incentive mechanism for participation in our legal workshops, PeaceTones will put out an open call to musicians in the communities for participation in a contest where the winner receives the opportunity to record an album and tour with PeaceTones.  The contest will be held online, where each participating musician will upload a song or music video (recorded with PeaceTones' help in-country).  Winners of the contests shall be determined by public vote on PeaceTones' online voting platform, so that audiences are built not only for the winning artist, but for all participating artists.  This contest is a means for artists to practically apply the marketing and technology tools learned in the workshops. The contest will be open to musicians with original music and positive social messages. The contest not only gives publicity to many unknown artists and their amazing works of music, but also helps publicize their messages of struggle, resilience and hope.  The contest winner will become a PeaceTones Ambassador, record an album with PeaceTones, and receive 90% of profits from album sales, of which a portion will go to a local community development project of their choosing that is vetted and meets certain criteria.  The four runners-up will also become PeaceTones Ambassadors and be provided the opportunity to participate in PeaceTones' crowdfunding platform, PeaceTones Springboard, in order to fundraise for the recording and release of their own albums, with publicity and fundraising help from PeaceTones. Springoboard will help these artists to find funds for the recording and production of their own albums by accepting donations and pre-selling their yet-to-be-created album.

PeaceTones will work with the winning artist to market the album and its message both within Kenya and internationally. The end products will be an arts community with a greater sense of legal and social justice empowerment, an understanding of their responsibilities and power as musicians, and greater knowledge of practical skills in marketing and using technology.

We have worked in Sierra Leone, Brazil and Haiti over the past five years, training artists in their rights and mentoring them in launching their careers and supporting their communities.  Our first project was in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Sierra Leone is a country that has had significant internal strife - a civil war that lasted over a decade and caused extreme trauma and disruption in the lives of the majority of the country's population.  We worked with a group of Sierra Leonean artists to record a compilation album, 100% of the proceeds from which have been dedicated to supporting computer literacy programs for youth in Freetown, Sierra Leone. 

Our following project was in the favelas of Recife, Brazil, where we trained and recorded an inspiring young group of hip-hop artists called Ato Perifèrico.  Growing up, the members of Ato Perifèrico were intimately familiar with violence, drugs, and poverty.  They decided to dedicate 100% of their PeaceTones album income to building a music studio to express themselves rather than resorting to the violent culture around them.  Ato Perifèrico attended the World Justice Forum in 2010 and performed for the delegates - an experience they recounted in a recent documentary about their lives as the most memorable performance to date for them.  Although they have performed in front of crowds of thousands at Carnaval in Recife, their hometown, in the past couple of years, they remember their nerves about playing to a group of 'important people in suits' and their elation at the genuinely enthusiastic response they received from the audience, who were on their feet and dancing to the group's music.

We then took our model to Haiti, to a small village in the north of the country, where we worked with artists to record an album and contribute a portion of profits to a maternity health clinic in their village.  Following the Haitian earthquake of January 2010, we held a second PeaceTones initiative in Port-au-Prince, which has been our most successful yet in terms of participation, publicity, and results for the artists themselves.   The winner of our Haiti Sings contest, Wanito, won with over 10,000 votes in our Facebook contest and has gone on to become one of Haiti's biggest stars.  Wanito's music speaks to the issues most pertinent to young Haitians today: poverty, corruption, teenage pregnancy, but also a fundamental resilience and pride in the Haitian spirit.

It is on the heels of our success in Haiti that we move on to our next project, for which we're currently raising funds for, in Nairobi. 

We are incredibly fortunate to have been a recipient of the Opportunity Fund's grant in 2009 – this grant helped us run our first three projects in Sierra Leone, Brazil and Haiti.  Were it not for the Opportunity Fund, we certainly would not be where we are today.  I write this post not only to thank the World Justice Project for believing in and investing in our vision for social change through grassroots legal and business education and mentoring for young music changemakers, but also to share our story so that others might be inspired to take up similar work and to use and teach the law in new and innovative ways.

To learn more about our work, please visit our website at www.peacetones.org and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/peacetones.  You can also join the movement by helping us meet our fundraising goal for Kenya at rally.org/peacetones.

Ruha Devanesan Peace Tones

Ruha is the Executive Director of the Internet Bar Organization, a nonprofit organization working to improve access to justice through technology through applied research in the fields of Online Dispute Resolution, mobile technology for dispute resolution, ICT4D, ICT4Peace and digital-economic inclusion for individuals in emerging economies.  In her capacity as Executive Director, she has led the design and implementation of several tech-focused social justice initiatives, of which PeaceTones is her personal favorite. The PeaceTones Initiative helps talented, unknown artists from developing nations build their careers while giving back to their communities. Through PeaceTones, Ruha and her team are looking to rework the traditional record label into something more fair to the artist, while teaching musicians the legal, marketing and technology skills they need to succeed as social entrepreneurs of their own making.

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