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Interview with Fodéba Isto Keira...

 ... the President of Circul'A African Music Export Office (Bureau Export de la Musique Africaine or BEMA in French), a West African organization that aims to facilitate the circulation of artists and their work and structure the regional music sector.

Isto is also the Director of the Guinean Performing Arts Agency, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and the head of Mass Production, the main cultural events management agency in Guinea.  He co-produces the Djembé d'Or, a prize that awards African artists each year.


Is the music sector considered to be a catalyst for development in Africa?

Music is undoubtedly a factor for economic development, particularly in West Africa.  It is a source of job creation, not only on an artistic level through concerts, tours, festivals and albums, but also through the different professions that support artists, such as managers, technicians and stage managers.

Do you think that Africa is an emerging market for the music industry?

Yes.  The African music industry (with the exception of South Africa) is not structured as yet.  Jobs come about in the informal sector, phonographic distribution is hampered by piracy, operators cannot easily access training and copyright legislation is limited.

Having said this, private operators and institutions are becoming increasingly aware of these difficulties.  In Senegal, for instance, the Interprofessional Coalition of Phonographic Producers and Publishers of Senegal (Coalition interprofessionnelle des producteurs et éditeurs phonographiques du Sénégal or CIPEPS) is carrying out important work and a new law on copyright and neighbouring rights is being voted.

Could you briefly explain how BEMA came about?

Since 2003, the Africa Fête team has been organizing professional meetings every year in Dakar just before the festival, bringing together actors from the music sector.  BEMA was born out of these meetings initiated by the late Mamadou Konté. 

In 2005, we created an informal network called Circul'A and set up a follow-up committee in Paris, in collaboration with partners based in Europe.

We then carried out a feasibility study, led by Mamadou, which enabled us to travel to Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Senegal which, along with Côte d'Ivoire, became the priority countries for BEMA given their dynamic and relatively structured music sectors.

BEMA was then officially set up in 2007 as a Senegalese association with a sub-regional office.

Why did you set up this new organization?

BEMA was set up to address the needs of African cultural operators, especially in West Africa.  In 2005 when we started the Circul'A network, we signed a charter stating that the network's aim was to help improve the professional mobility of its members and contribute to capacity-building in the African music industry.  These fundamental objectives were reproduced in the BEMA statutes.

What activities have you carried out so far to fulfil these aims?

We held our first activities from October to December 2007.  They included a tour of artists, training for music professionals and professional meetings that ended in a seminar on cultural industries in Dakar.

In 2008, we plan to continue the training sessions and extend them to six countries.  With the Global Alliance's support, we hope to enable several operators to attend WOMEX [a world music trade fair] for further training.

We also intend to help artists tour in West Africa and, if possible, Europe.  Furthermore, we are going to release a compilation of emerging West African artists and launch a website that will become an online resource centre for our members.  In 2009, we hope to launch an African music trade fair.

What do you consider to be BEMA's most unique features?

The first unique feature is that it is an African organization, conceived and led by Africans.  We aren't worried about it being taken over by Westerners because it is a project that came into being thanks to our own experience and expertise.

What's more, Mamadou was an influential figure who was able to identify reliable operators in the sub-region and inspire us to be a part of the project.  All the founding members are known in their countries and even internationally.  They can therefore exert influence on national authorities and other local actors.  Indeed, we all have the responsibility of representing BEMA in our respective countries to encourage other members to join us.  

How do you plan to involve the public sector and civil society in your work?

From the outset, we have invited and consulted ministries of culture, copyright offices, musicians' and producers' associations as well as the West African Economic and Monetary Union to encourage them to become involved in BEMA.  They are invited to all our professional meetings and can voice their opinions alongside private actors.  BEMA is there to unite actors and that's why we work with the approval of the public sector and civil society.

In what way is the presence of African music in international markets important to promote the diversity of cultural expressions?

Music guarantees cultural diversity.  In Africa, artists naturally perform multidisciplinary shows, incorporating dance, music, sometimes drama and video.  Thanks to our artists and their work, the culture of our countries is made known throughout the world.  Artists are Africa's best ambassadors.  Their presence, through producers and managers, in specialized markets is therefore essential.

What initiatives should international cooperation develop to support the African music sector?

It should strive to work more closely with actors on the ground from the private sphere since they are the ones who know about the realities and difficulties we face.

The music sector is not supported by policies to encourage employment.  In fact, we can't speak of cultural policies in our countries.  Cooperation should therefore help African authorities to conceive policies that have structural impact and support artistic creation, on the continent and internationally, while ensuring the economic benefits on a local level.

Finally, cooperation projects should be designed in a medium-term perspective and not on an ad hoc basis as is often the case.  This will allow us the time to implement real development strategies.

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