Dan Chiorboli : Making SA Music International

Pre-task: Music as an agent for change



Dan Chiorboli, founder of Awesome Africa music festival, the Liberation Orchestra and Solidarity Express has dedicated his career to promoting world music through festivals, collaborations and travelling projects. His career has straddled creativity as a Darbuka percussion player, the business of music festivals, cross-border musical collaborations, and the global power of music as a vehicle for conscientising people for long and lasting change. In this episode we delve into Dan’s story to learn how to activate the soul in our business practices and to magnify the entrepreneurial spirit.

Resistance Music from Cuba, Italy and South Africa

Born in Ferrara, Italy, Dan comes from a musical family. His grandmother was a concert pianist at La Scala in Milan. She was intrinsically involved in the partisan resistance in the north of Italy. She worked behind the gothic line, a German defence line across Italy during the Second World War, helping partisans escape into safe havens in Emelia Romagna in Northern Italy.

Italy’s commitment to global freedom contributed to the Southern Africa struggle for freedom, particularly in the 70s.The Italian town of Reggia Emelia granted the ANC from South Africa and Frelimo from Mozambique a safe haven abroad. Both Samora Machel and OR Tambo stayed in Reggia Emelia and were educated there. The city signed a solidarity pact with the African National Congress (ANC) in 1977 and published Sechaba, the official newsletter of the ANC, in Italian.

A famous son of this Italian town was Giuseppe Soncini who worked with Samora Machel in Mozambique, assisting in the struggle for freedom, and corresponded closely with OR Tambo. The liberation link between South Africa and Italy remains important. In 2004, a twinning agreement between Reggio Emilia and Polokwane was signed.

The Liberation Project sought to re-energise and rejuvenate songs from the South African freedom struggle, and mix them with songs from the partisan resistance in Italy. The similarities to Cuba’s fight for freedom could not be overlooked. Cuba had a successful revolution over military dictatorship in the late 50s and went on to play a significant central role in Southern Africa’s liberation struggle, particularly in the 70s and their military interventions in Angola.

With the mission statement of sharing freedom songs between Cuba, Italy and South Africa, the Liberation Project grew into a cross-border world music band. An international network of friends and collaborators with strong beliefs in human rights, liberation, freedom and equality, came together to research and remember the role music played in the global struggle for freedom.

As Dan says, “We need to go back into our past to look at our future?” South Africa’s musical history includes the tremendous role musical icons played in conscientising an international audience to the struggles in South Africa. To make her international audiences aware of the struggles South Africans faced, Miriam Makeba loved to sing the Jeremy Taylor song A piece of ground. Hugh Masekela was very active in America and wrote the struggle song, Soweto Blues, which remembered the Soweto Uprising of 1976. Johnny Clegg became very well established particularly in France and his famous protest song was Asimbonanga, written whilst Nelson Mandela was on Robben Island.

South African have used traditional songs such as Shosholoza, the traditional folk song that originated in Zimbabwe, to express the call for freedom, and international artists have joined the solidarity with South Africa’s freedom struggle through their own song-writing. British musician Jerry Dammers wrote Free Nelson Mandela, and Peter Gabriels song Biko about the fatal arrest and brutal interrogation in August 1977 of Stephen Biko, became world famous. The royalties of that song to this day are still donated to the OR Tambo Trust.

Italy also has many great songs that express the ideals of freedom and resistance. There is the famous partisan hymn, Bella Ciao as the anthem from the partisan movement, Fischia il Venti.Riconquistare La Liberta is a 1942 composition by Fernando Bruni, the anti-fascist who died in detention in the dungeon of Castello Estense in Ferrara. The Liberation Project also came up with a composition of their own, I can hear my papa calling, dedicated to young Italian activist, Karim Franceschi, who volunteered to fight in the Syrian Civil War.

Some of the Cuban liberations songs paint an ancestral link between Nigeria and Cuba, using the Abakuá rhythm from the Kalabari Coast of Nigeria to evoke the mythological stories of the beautiful and brave Yoruba Goddess and Afro-Cuban Aphrodite, Oshún. She was one of the original Libertarians, fighting against the slavers in Nigeria and Cuba.

The concept of change touches the soul of the human condition. We have all experienced change and we all wish to see change, particularly from suffering. Music can bring about change through creating awareness and knowledge sharing on the topics. But music can also bring about change through touching the soul and making everyone aware of the common humanity that we share.

Now, answer the following exercise questions



1. How did you get into music in the very first place? What is the origin of your love for music? And what other artists and musicians have you heard that have touched your soul?

2. The struggle for freedom is ancient, contemporary and present. Are there any injustices or inequalities that you can identify in your own social environment that you think are inhumane? Please tell us what you have witnessed that you wish to change. A powerful step to bringing change is through music. Can you pen some lyrics for the injustice you wish to address?

3. In Southern Africa we learn the importance of humanity from one another. This is part of the famous philosophy of Ubuntu (people depend on other people to exist as people). Is there anyone you know, an elder in your family or community who you can speak to in order to learn more about what has been their fight for human rights, and most importantly whether their struggle for social upliftment has been achieved? What have you learned from them?

4. As a nation, South Africa has experienced so much, from political division to unity and economic inequality. South Africa also has a unique experience in bringing peace and change. What global problems do you see in the world that South Africans can help change? Can we do this through culture? And, what role would you like to play in this?

Making South African Music International with Dan Chiorboli






Post-task: Awakening the Entrepreneurial Spirit



To really succeed in promoting music, you have t to have a passion and a love for music and your country.

South Africa has had many fantastic musical groups that have not been able to break into the global context. But this is changing, slowly but surely. As the South African representative for the WOMAD (international world music and dance festival), Dan had the opportunity to recommend the Soweto band BCUC for the international stage. BCUC used this opportunity to establish themselves internationally. As Dan said, “BCUC are not commercial, they are not radio friendly, but they have something that is absolutely unique. They have an electrifying live stage show. Great hooks, great chants, great rhythms. BCUC play music from their soul and that is what we should all be doing as South Africans.”

World Music Festivals

WOMAD was established in 1982 by Peter Gabriel. Despite many opportunities to sell the WOMAD brand to big corporates like Live Nation, WOMAD has remained true to its roots – world music and dance. WOMAD festivals have up to 11 different stages with hundreds of bands performing. Up to 80% of the bands are unknown, but are being showcased to the world for the first time. And that is the spirit of WOMAD, giving all artists the platform to play in this global festival environment where international festival directors congregate to scout for new talent. Festival direction is an important job internationally. This industry has made a crucial impact on cultural tourism worldwide. The European Festival Forum for example has 2700 affiliate festivals across Eastern and Western Europe.

Africa also has strong networks and festival circuits which provide the dual benefit of efficient cultural tourism packages and economies of scale. There are festival circuits during Africa Month (May), Jazz Month, (April), National Festival Month, (July) and Cultural Heritage Month, (September).

Today WOMAD takes place in 24 different countries. Each WOMAD destination festival is very different. WOMAD Australia, or Chile does not have the same issues that South Africa has – so therefore the festival will be a different experience. One of the important roles of a festival director is to speak to their audience.

The festival era in South Africa was truly birthed in ‘94 at the unfolding of the new South Africa. People’s overwhelming and bottled up desire to come together and share their cultural expressions could no longer be contained. And what better way of coming together than a music festival?

In 1999, Dan teamed up with musician Ray Phiri and cultural heritage practitioner, Professor Pitika Ntuli to create Awesome Africa, a unique festival experience that focused on fascinating musical collaborations, with deep links to natural and cultural heritage.

Awesome Africa was a landmark festival in bringing to life the magic and emotion of the beautiful natural Shongweni Valley. Through offering visitors world class experiences, whilst showcasing new locations, festivals became a cornerstone of the creative economy and a leading initiative for generating long term economic growth.

First and foremost a festival provides a great opportunity for artists to showcase their work, learn from other artists, and generate professional networks. But there are many other benefits to festivals. Festivals promote the location as a tourism destination through events marketing and media coverage; provide business and cultural development benefits through sharing skills, expertise and employment opportunities; and produce desirable social benefits such as building cultural capital and social cohesion amongst the audience.

As a festival director, Dan believes team work is the key to success. He said, “It is about getting the right team together. It is never about the individual. It shouldn’t be about the ego. It is about finding the right people and putting the right team around you.”

Festival direction has changed over the years to become more inclusive in the need to reach a wider audience. Some of the many things a festival director in South Africa needs to think about are: cultural tourism, heritage, conservation, water management and preservation, access to health education and services, targeted participation of women and youth and the inclusion of all creative disciplines - Music, Film, Digital Content, Dance, Visual and Performing Arts, Fashion, Architecture, Writing and Publishing, Heritage and Conservation.

Now answer the following Post-task questions:



1. Innovation in sustainability is an exciting and important future trend of festival production. Bushfire festival has a tree planting programme. Oppikoppi had a waste management programme. Can you think of anything that you would like to add to a music and cultural festival to make it more sustainable?

2. South Africa is criticised internationally for Americanisation – copying the Americans and losing our own heritage and therefore our soul. Is there anything that you see around you that does not respect or admire indigenous culture that you can change and how would you go about changing that?

3. Music festivals contribute to the experience economy where audiences expect to have a certain experience; also to the transformation economy whereby audiences have life transforming experiences. Can you think of any transformative experiences you have had through music and how you would stage that experience at a festival?

4. A huge part of music management is marketing. Ladysmith Black Mambazo give 120-150 concerts a year around the world. How do you think they have built their brand to a global audience and what can you learn from them?


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