Young musicians in Mozambique don’t have much opportunity to record and distribute their music. “Wired for Sound,” a mobile recording studio that currently tours northern Mozambique seeks to change that. The team of the founding member of the South African band Freshlyground Simon Attwell, radio producer Kim Winter, and Freshlyground guitarist Julio Sigauque, who was born in Maputo, record young musical talent and explore how Mozambican youths express themselves through their music.

All the musicians receive their own recordings on disc, and the initial recordings are broadcasted on community radio stations. When back in South Africa, the team of Wired for Sound plans to work on selected tracks with more established musicians and producers to make a 5 track EP and then an album after the next phases of the project, which will include trips to other countries in different parts of Africa. Proceeds from these albums will be fed back to community radio stations, most likely in the form of permanent production facilities.

We conducted an email interview with the team of Wired for Sound while they were driving through Malawi to Mozambique’s Niassa province. So far, the trip has been a success: “The north is not an easy place for visitors or for locals but we have been received generously and with open hearts. The young people are proud to be Mozambican, fierce about building a peaceful nation and willing to share a culture rich in history and music.”

How did you get the idea for “Wired for Sound”?

Wired for Sound (WFS) is a project that combines our love of music, radio and travel—and a desire to work with a young community of musicians across Southern Africa. We are currently working on the pilot project in Northern Mozambique.

At core we are a mobile recording studio, designed around a 4×4 vehicle with battery system and solar panel, which means we are equipped to record pretty much anywhere. So far we have set up next to ruins on Mount Serra Choa, in a mango forest in an old missionary station on the outskirts of Catandica, and in an abandoned military airfield in Furancungo.

Simon had been playing with the idea of creating a mobile recording studio for a while, brainstorming with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) on how to access young musicians in remote areas, not only creating opportunities for young talent to record and collaborate with more established musicians, but also to try explore the realities of youth culture through expression in music—the stories behind the words through interviews, radio debates and radio documentaries.

How did you decide to work with local community radio stations?

It made sense to partner with community radio stations for the Mozambican pilot, and Wired for Sound is working with the Community Radios National Forum of Mozambique (FORCOM), itself an OSISA-funded organization, in order to enrich the WFS vision and outcomes. As radio enthusiasts, we feel strongly about opening up ways in which quality content can be generated by Africans, finding a place on African stations as well as internationally. In each of the four provinces we visit on this trip (Manica, Tete, Cabo Delgado and Nampula) we are collaborating with at least one local community radio station. They are an entry point into the community, a link to local musicians as well as a vital insight into the workings of the area. Once we have met, worked with and recorded a select group of local musicians, the radio station hosts a live discussion, plays snippets of each recording and interviews all involved about the music, their lives and dreams.

We are putting together two radio documentaries on the road—one for local dissemination on Mozambican radio and one for international syndication on our experience of the project as a whole.

Why did you decide to travel through the northern provinces of Mozambique and not the Center or South?

We traveled to Mozambique a few times during the preparatory year, attending community radio conferences, meeting with local journalists, musicians and anthropologists—and from these conversations it emerged that North Mozambique is far less explored both musically and geographically. We wanted to be able to access remote places to see for ourselves how people (especially young people) express themselves and what kind of access they have to media and platforms for discussion and debate. An economic boom and big scale development in Mozambique have recently made headlines, and for both OSISA and WFS the intersection between this development and the effect it has on young people’s lives is a fascinating issue to explore.

Wired for Sound

How do you think music can bring about a discussion about rights and other issues of concern to the youth?

One of the difficulties facing us on the road is language. Julio acts as a translator but is not always able to understand the local languages—sometimes we have a three way conversations from English to Portuguese to a local language and back again, which can get interesting! The magic happens when we sit down with musicians and jam—we have ended up working across genders and backgrounds with young musicians who are musically extremely talented and with some who may not be naturals but just love to sing or rap or who have local knowledge about more traditional music.

Each musician so far has generated original material, and during the jamming sessions and conversations afterwards, we get to unpack the songs or an instruments’ history and in doing so, learn about people’s lives, their personal stories and the issues close to their hearts. Lyrics have been about everything from love, family history, calls for peace or messages about corrupt authoritative structures—for us music has served as an inroad into people’s lives, giving us a chance to share stories in ways we may not have been able to otherwise.

How do you find the musicians whose music you’re recording on your trip?

We try and spend at least a week in an area, interacting with local musicians who have established relationships with the community radio station, and following up leads on musicians from hearsay. Recording and production facilities in these areas are seriously limited or entirely absent. Good quality microphones, recording gear and editing suites are pretty much non-existent even for the community radio stations despite the enormous talent. So, given an opportunity to record a demo and have it played on air has been a big win for everyone involved, and subsequently finding musicians has not really been an issue!

However, we have been faced with some tough questions about how people’s lives can be changed or made better through this project. Fair questions, leading to lengthy discussions about how we can make this kind of project continuously work for the communities involved. It has been hard not to have all the answers now but we are creating an amazing network of young musicians and journalists as we go, who will be instrumental in designing the sustainability component – whether it be a permanent production set up at each station or equipment sponsorship etc. Marshall Music Cape Town and AKG came on board for this pilot project and we hope to ellicit their support in making this a reality.

What issues have come up in the radio conversations and the music you recorded? What are young people concerned about?

A few stories so far… Nelito, 21 and Armando, 20, are two young guys we worked with in Catandica (Manica Province). They combined rap and more traditional song—which worked pretty well! The two are from the port town of Beira and currently live alone in Catandica where they attend Grade 12 (it is one of the few places in the province that offer Grade 11 & 12.) Nelito wants to pursue music in Maputo, following in his cousin’s footsteps while Armando has plans to study accounting. They co-wrote the lyrics to a rap that tells a true story about a young man who finds out the girl he is dating has a child with another man. Along with issues about love and trust, Nelito and Armando spoke about the challenges living alone in Catandica with no access to employment and with very little to do as a young person. There are no performance venues, dance clubs or cinemas in Catandica—a place with a population of about 126,000 people.

Access to quality education has come up again and again. A girls group, Redes, performed an old peace song for us in Catandica and we were able to sit and chat after the recording. Many of the local girls don’t go to school and the students take it upon themselves to teach others. They spoke to us about teachers not taking their work seriously, often leaving school early to drink. Another major issue the girls brought up, echoed throughout Africa, is sugar daddies. In Catandica, older men buy young girls cellphones expecting sex in return, adding to the already high number of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts. Cellphones are a status symbol and often the only access to the Internet for students, journalists and locals alike. Facebook is used more than email.

Mapinhane, 32, is a teacher at a local school but for 500MC he records and makes home videos of local musicians in his spare time. He is passionate about music using only the microphone from his 90’s model video camera to record.  There is little access to equipment and even basic instruments—as his guitarist, Massimba, 37, knows all too well. Massimba plays an old, out of tune guitar beautifully and did some fine recordings using Julio’s guitar. He also sang a song the words of which revealed how churches in the area take advantage of the people and their money.

Banda, 30 and Marcelino, 24 live in Furancungo, about 160km from the town of Tete, and a short distance from the Malawian border. Banda has a mixed style of Zuk / Marabente and Marcelino is a traditionalist with some gospel thrown into the mix. Rusting military tanks littering the dirt road to Furancungo and the abandoned military airfield we recorded in serve as a constant reminder of the past. The two singers were too young to remember the war but are aware of its presence every day. They are hugely talented singers and have been recorded by amateur producers who travel down from Malawi. However, they have not seen much remuneration for these recordings and are forced to work in the agricultural sector. For most of the young musicians we have worked with, a career in music is a pipe dream.

Photos by Simon Attwell and Kim Winter, taken in Mbonge Village, Pemba, and Catandica, Manica. More photos and sound clips here.