Public Workshop 30 April 2022 – Community Building and Impactful Peer Engagement

As a part of the 6-month Music Production and Online Radio Training programme, South Africa is hosting monthly public workshops on various topics applicable to the course work. We have invited writer Cassandra Roxburgh to attend and write about the workshops. We have included infographics on the topics discussed at the workshop. This programme is in partnership with Rose Bonica and Reform Radio, funded by British Council.

Building An Inclusive Community for Marginalised Creatives

Part one of a blog series will unpack the ideas and themes discussed in the public workshops hosted by shesaidso South Africa in collaboration with Rose Bonica.

Building community is essential to a vibrant, diverse creative industry. The music industry thrives on the collaborative innovation that arises from tightly-knit communities built around commonalities of interest and place. However, for most women and LGBTQIA+ artists and producers in South Africa, creating or finding a community can be incredibly difficult. 

The music industry has a bad habit of marginalising and othering producers or musicians who exist outside of the rigid binaries of the cis heteropatriarchy. So to put it plainly – if you’re not a cisgender man, you’re going to experience numerous obstacles to success.

To combat this, shesaidso South Africa and Reform Radio, in collaboration with Rose Bonica, launched their sixth month Music Production and Online Radio Training Programme. The programme is designed to uplift women and LGBTQIA+ producers or musicians from underserved communities in the Western Cape, South Africa. Part of this programme is a monthly series of workshops aimed at marginalised creatives interested in nurturing an empowering and inclusive community.

The workshop series debuted on 30 April. On a cold, windy Saturday afternoon in Cape Town, a small group of marginalised music artists bundled into a seminar room at the Watershed in the Waterfront. The room crackled with energy as everyone milled about introducing one another. The attendees included people from all sides of the music industry in Cape Town, including event curators, DJs, producers, performing artists, and music journalists. 

The workshop aims to create an honest and open discussion about impactful community building. The foundational principles were rooted in meaningful engagement built on the values of mutual trust and respect. There’sThere’s no progress in talks about barriers to building inclusive communities if there aren’t safe spaces for marginalised artists to engage with one another. Marginalised artists are frequently left out of conversations about the growth of the local scene and how to build community.

Consequently, many marginalised artists experience a lingering sense of isolation within the South African music industry. Isolation makes it difficult for people to nurture community if they constantly feel uninspired and incapable of making legitimate connections. A further aspect of that isolation is that emerging artists are often at a loss when setting their performance fees or knowing when they’re exploited through the tokenisation of their identity. The entertainment space is incredibly lonely when you’re othered.

Isolation had always been an aspect of the industry. Women and queer people have always struggled to carve out spaces for themselves. The pandemic, however, sharply exacerbated that feeling of isolation. The enclaves of inclusivity and queer expression that had formed within Cape Town were brutally closed down by the lockdown regulations. The queer bar Raptor Room, which many had lauded as the primary space for freedom of expression, shut down halfway through the pandemic. Covid19 brought events like Death of Glitter to a grinding halt.

The dependency of inclusive community on specific venues and event series before the pandemic is why the pandemic rapidly dissolved that sense of community. As we emerge out of the pandemic, there needs to be a concentrated effort to build a resilient community capable of withstanding the displacement of physical spaces in which to gather.

The ideal approach would be to build support structures within the digital space. However, the limitations of physicality mean that your community is only capable of existing if you can gather in person. A digital meeting space, like a Discord server, allows artists to access resources even when they cannot connect with people in person. This fosters diverse spaces for connection and collaboration, which are key to building a diverse, supportive community. 

The digitising of resources is also incredibly important as it subverts the norm of selfish knowledge-hoarding. There are countless stories of industry professionals refusing to share helpful knowledge with new artists. This means new artists often get exploited while figuring out how to set performance fees or what constitutes legitimate demands to make of promoters when it comes to social media promotion.

The demands of late-stage capitalism have transformed the music industry from a community built on artistic expression and mutual support into a bastardised edifice of hustle culture. The endless pursuit of the next paycheck fuels the growing sense of isolation, and the gatekeepers are perfectly willing to exploit hustle culture if it means they can increase their bottom line. 

The process of impactful community-building boils down to collaboration. Many event curators at the workshop raised a major concern that they want to build inclusive spaces but don’t have the capital to invest in those spaces. The most practical solution to this is mutual aid predicated on equal value or energy. Everyone has a unique set of skills that they can exchange for someone else’s time or energy. For example, a promoter might not have the capital to pay performance fees, but perhaps they have a photographer that takes press photos for people’s press kits. Such an approach would subvert the principles of hustle culture while also ensuring that artists still receive a form of payment for the energy they put into their performances.

Building an inclusive community dismantles the vice-grip that gatekeeping has on the creative industry. If you don’t have the keys – buy a set of bolt cutters.