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Photography by Alexia Webster

OneBeat – Heard Around the World

South African musicians are enjoying more hard-earned international exposure than ever. After getting an email from Drake’s camp, DJ Black Coffee was featured on the superstar’s More Life project. A Twitter DM, brought Petite Noir’s magisterial voice to Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition. But the actual grind of getting passports, tickets and winning fans through touring is made harder by fluctuating exchanges rates and sheer physical distance.

For the last seven years, the OneBeat fellowship has been offering some redress by bringing talented young musicians, from around the world, to the U.S for residency and performance. Organised by the U.S State Department in collaboration with the Found Sound Nation Collective, it offers emerging professional musicians a period to produce original music and to plan projects in their home countries. This is followed by a national tour, with public performances from small jazz clubs to huge street festivals.

Jeremy Thal, one of the founders, explained the vision behind it as one of communication: ” one of our earliest slogans was ‘ musical collaboration across the world and across the block’. Often the most difficult cultural barriers are not dividing people in Chicago from folks in the Congo, but dividing folks in Chicago and the Congo from their neighbors. Collaborative music-making, when approached with the right spirit, can serve to bridge these divides”. For him, “music is a very visceral and quick way to communicate. And the key elements to bridging these cultural gaps is participation and co-creation”. And so, the fellowship encourages participants to continue engagement in their home countries, with one of the alumni bands performing at next month’s Cape Town Jazz Festival.

The fellowship is open to musicians, aged 19-35, in any genre.  Previous years have promoted a rich variety of homegrown talent. An early recipient was Mpumelelo Mcata, the fiercely innovative guitarist of BLK JKS, followed by violinist Kyla-Rose Smith, bassist Benjamin Jephta and folk singer Bongeziwe Mabandla. Most recently, it hosted unique voices Nonku Phiri and Mandla Mlageni.

The applications for this year are open until the 9th of February, 5 PM (Eastern Standard Time, USA). Successful candidates will start with a three week residency at the Atlantic Centre for the Arts, followed by a tour of New York, Baltimore, Charleston SC and Washington DC.  More information and applications can be found at 1beat.org.

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