About Community Voice International and the Pilot Project
Community Voice International is a nonprofit organization that facilitates cultural understanding and supports international development by improving communities' capacity to share cultural resources. Community Voice International works with communities to record local music, distribute the recordings online to engage a global audience, and return 100% of the proceeds to the communities to fund local development efforts chosen by the communities themselves.
In June 2013, Community Voice traveled to Senegal to pilot its music project in collaboration with Peace Corp Volunteers and Tostan, a non-government organization specializing in holistic, non-formal education. The team partnered with eight communities across Senegal, recording performances of local music in each of these communities. These communities come from five of Senegal's major ethnic groups—Bambara, Mandinka, Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof—and each performs a unique style of music. Musicians played stringed instruments (kora, hoddu, and ñaañeru), drums, and other percussion instruments including various uses of calabashes, gourds, and bowls. Solo singers and call and response ensembles sang lyrics ranging from traditional griot stories to Muslim chants to new compositions celebrating the growing importance of women's rights in Senegal. The members of our partner communities are excited to present their music and are proud to share this part of their culture with a global audience.
These songs were recorded in the local context—often outside under the shade of a tree. In addition to the voices and instruments of the community, each recording is rich with the sounds of daily life: babies crying, birds chirping, and the murmur of conversations. We believe these sounds add to the recordings, rather than detracting from them. Each community holds the copyright to its own recordings and has named Community Voice International to act as agent on their behalf.
For more information on Community Voice International, Peace Corps Senegal, and Tostan, please visit our websites:
About the Participating Communities
The village of Dar Salam is a Mandinka community with a population of over 3,000 people. Located between Kolda and Sedhiou near the Casamance River, the community has a diverse economy of agriculture, hunting, and the production of artisanal crafts. Fruit farming is a very important part of life in Dar Salam. In fact, the community chose to hold their performance under a massive mango tree at the peak of mango season. Several large mangoes fell during the performance, coming very close to the singers, audience, and recording equipment. No one was injured by flying fruit, but if you listen closely to the recordings you may hear a loud thump, followed by gasps, and laughter! The community would like to use the funds earned from their record sales to support the expansion of their orchards as well as other development projects.
Keur Bakary is a Wolof community of approximately 2,000 people located south of Kaolack, near the border with The Gambia. Peanuts are the main crop grown by the village and also comprise the largest part of the local economy. The day before the community's performance there was a death in the village, and Community Voice International offered to postpone the recording out of respect for the mourners and the deceased. The community, however, is exceptionally dedicated to sharing their culture and supporting their development work, and they placed such a high priority on the Community Voice project that they insisted that it should be completed as planned. The musicians performed in a more subdued manner because of the community's mourning, and the session was held on the edge of the village instead of under the baobab tree in the center of the community. Far from being mournful, the performance highlights the strength, perseverance, and resilience of the people of Keur Bakary, with songs praising education, peace, and women's strength. There is no health center in the village, and the community would like to use any funds raised through the sale of music recordings to work toward creating a health center. They would especially like to hire or train a midwife to assist women during pregnancy and births.
Keur Daouda Cisse is a community of 325 people located just east of Thiès in central Senegal. The members of this Wolof community are devout members of the Mouride Islamic Brotherhood, and the men and boys of the community often pass the time performing ritual chants in Arabic. The farmers of the village cultivate mangoes, cashews, papaya, and peanuts as well as herd goats, sheep, and cows. Peace Corps is working with community members to reverse creeping desertification and encourage conservation-focused agricultural methods. The community draws water from two wells outfitted with manual pumps. The pumps on the wells are currently broken however, and the community hopes to utilize funds generated through the sale of their recordings to repair these pumps.
Santankoye is home to about 1,200 people who farm peanuts, millet, and corn. Historically the Pulaar people who comprise the majority of residents in this village have been herders. Like their ancestors, the residents of Santankoye herd cows to sell milk in the nearby city of Kolda and make kossam (cultured milk) for their own consumption. The women of the village are very active, with at least four women's groups organized to address the needs and well-being of the community's women and girls. The community will use the proceeds from the sales of their recordings to increase the number of women's gardens in the community which are used to supplement families' diets as well as providing a unique source of income to women. There are many female entrepreneurs in Santankoye, and so they will also fund the women's groups' micro-lending and micro-enterprise initiatives.
The community of Sare Bidji is defined by its surroundings: several villages established on the fertile flood valley of a river, dependent upon the richness of the ground to grow the rice that is the basis of their economy. Approximately 8,000 Pulaar people live in these villages, sharing a common history and culture. The musicians from six villages want to create a program for local young people to learn traditional music. The musicians fear that without this type of teaching, the community's music and culture may die. The community hopes to utilize any funds generated from the sale of their recordings to build traditional instruments and to implement the program. The local pride and excitement about participating in Community Voice International's project has already increased interest in traditional music among the young people.
Soudiane is a Bambara village of 350 people located near the Atlantic coast, just inland from the town of Joal. Members of the community have been working hard toward their development goals for many years and notably have installed hundreds of solar panels throughout the village. One woman from Soudiane traveled to India to learn about sustainable solar energy through Tostan and the Barefoot College organization. Goals for the future include community gardens, sheep farming, and a micro-credit program. The proceeds generated from the sale of their local music would be used primarily to fund their micro-credit effort.
Thielao is a community of over 3,000 Pulaar people in northern Senegal, near the Mauritanian border. Located on the Douè River, Thielao farmers grow rice during the dry season using irrigation channels from the river. The river is also a valuable source of fish for the community. During the rainy season, farmers grow millet, cowpeas, vegetables, and hibiscus. The community also raises cows, goats, and horses. Hoddu player Dema Dia from Thielao performed on the communities’ recordings. He had recently returned from a tour of the United States and has previously performed with Baaba Maal from nearby Podor and other renowned Senegalese musicians. The community is interested in micro-credit and income-generating projects. The money generated from the sale of their music will be used to implement these projects, including granting a micro-loan to repair broken tractors and investing in livestock to generate income.
Yelingara is a predominately Soninke village in eastern Senegal, near the Senegal River and the border with Mauritania. About 7,000 people live in the community and given its size, it supports several small shops as well as workshops for metal smiths and woodworkers. Recent discussions in the community have revealed that gender-based violence is a serious issue in the village. The community has begun working to empower women and girls and to educate the entire community to address this violence. Yelingara would like to use the funds generated through the sale of local music to undertake further education and outreach programs to eliminate the gender-based violence in the community.