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From Maputo to Harare: The Vibrancy of Grassroots Creative Hubs In Southern Africa

From Maputo to Harare: The Vibrancy of Grassroots Music Hubs In Southern Africa

"The main trend is that they are trying to transform the African narrative through optimism, promoting inclusion, diversity and resilience, while being hybrid spaces with specific focuses"

Africa’s creative industries have an immense growth potential. On one side, it’s easy to get excited from all of the creativity bubbling out from the region with phenomena such the Afrobeats and Amapiano sounds taking over music charts worldwide, the increased presence of Nollywood films on Netflix and the expansion of the African Film Festival network, to name a few. On the other side, as UNDP’s Angela Luigi points out, the continent also has promising conditions for the creative industry, such as a growing youth population, greater rates of urbanisation and a widening middle class.

Despite this exciting context, creative industries in the region still have a limited impact on GDP and there is still much work to be done before Governments give them the attention they deserve within their public policy guidelines. 

As a result, a lot of the region's desire for local production and consumption of arts, culture, creativity and innovation is being served at a grassroots level by different kinds of independent projects that are finding practical ways to keep their creative scenes growing despite having limited public support.

This has been reflected in the development of creative hubs which combine non-musical business models (such as co-working spaces or coffee shops) with a mix of disciplines from the creative industries world that exploit the intersection of music with technology, health, startups identity building and much more. 

Luckily for us, we have a team member that is currently living right in the middle of all of this creative effervescence. So we decided to take this as an opportunity and ask him to take us on a quick ride into the grassroots creative hubs scene of the region, with the purpose of discovering some inspiring projects and understanding some of the general trends guiding the work of all of them.

Besides being an amazing and inspiring colleague, Sizo, Coordinator at Momentual, is a very active cultural entrepreneur in his home town of Eswatini. He runs the cultural hub Yini Loku, manages the music label Antidote Music and is also constantly involved in conversations about the creative economy in his city and abroad. 

In the past couple of months he’s been travelling to several conferences across Southern Africa, a process that has put him in contact with a large number of projects that are having a significant impact on their local music ecosystems.

In the following list he guides us through 5 creative hubs that give us a bit of the vibe of the grassroots creative scene of Southern Africa. A group of projects that seem to share a common DIY enthusiasm towards building a new creative scene that is fueled by optimism and a strong focus on diversity.

Transforming the African narrative through optimism

“On general terms, we could say that the main trend amongst the list of venues that I’ve come across is that they are trying to transform the African narrative through optimism, promoting inclusion, diversity and resilience, while being hybrid spaces with specific focuses.

What I have seen is that they do not focus on music exclusively. The general increase in demand for African music and content of the past few years has led to more grassroot development activities, and with this influx of activities is the need for spaces. These vary from creation to platforms for showcasing. This is a bit different from what happens in other parts of the world where I feel that it is more common to find dedicated music hubs and showcase platforms.”

The interdisciplinary and DIY enthusiasm of music scenes

“Being a person that is involved in the everyday of the African Creative Industries I can say that there’s lots to be done to have a mature creative industry, but what stands out is the enthusiasm of DIY music scenes.”

“I really like what Tshimologong Precinct is doing. They are a high-tech hub that is creating world leading African digital entrepreneurs at the heart of Johannesburg South Africa. The Precinct is initiated by the University of Witwatersrand and provides access to youth-led digital innovations from all around the continent. Through their Fakugesi Innovation Festival and Digital Lab Africa, Tshimologong recognises the role music plays in advancing digital storytelling through Immersive Technologies, Gaming and Animation. Music becomes a category amongst these, also involves workshops and programming throughout the year. During the Fakugesi Innovation Festival artists who are innovative in their musical approaches grace the stage to showcase what Africa has to offer. The Precinct and the Festival is forever finding new ways to showcase some of the best projects using music in the most innovative ways.” 

Tshimologong Precint

X-hub - A creative business incubator hub

“In the very same format is the X-hub, a creative business incubator in Maputo Mozambique. Initiated by Khuzula, the hub is a great ambition to advance and professionalise the local creative economy in Mozambique. X-Hub provides a co-working space, skills development for creative businesses and access to networking opportunities. The hub also has a strong focus on music. They have a state-of-the-art music production and recording facility and this works out nicely with the restaurant that provides a stage for showcasing and performances. Their stage provides opportunities for talent discovery and also is a way to bring the creative community together in a less formal environment. Maputo in itself is a lusophone cosmopolitan city that boasts an array of cultural activities and spaces.”


16Neto - A hybrid space for showcases, training and festivals

Adding to the Maputo cultural landscape is 16Neto. Originally setup as a co-working space, over the years it has become a hybrid space for showcases, training and festivals. Having to cater to the youth of Maputo City, 16Neto has developed a very strong cultural programming where they curate and co-curate activities with various partners such as Gala Gala Festival, Fast Forward Maputo and more. Their outdoors gradually welcomes the creative youth of Maputo over drinks, food and music and creates a relaxed atmosphere for networking and community building. 16Neto also opens its doors to host intimate musical performances in some of the exhibition spaces within the facility. Quite recently, the space has been home to a musical theatre artistic residency by Maputo Fast Forward for the show “New Kids - A Musical Experience Vol. 2” which aims to increase Mozambique’s artistic talents in a practical and strategic way. This shows the dedication the space has in integrating music in its programming. 


Afrotopia - A co-working space, a gallery, a film club, an open mic stage and more

Just next to Mozambique is Zimbabwe, where the heart of its capital Harare is home to a dynamic co-working, co-learning and co-earning space. Afrotopia is a place for young entrepreneurs, freelancers, remote workers and creatives who seek to be in a community of like minded people. Afrotopia is constantly hosting different activities both training and social gathering events. They open up their space for film screenings, poetry and music performances amongst others. With Zimbabwe having a very strong music legacy, it is only right that the space becomes home to some music artists and entrepreneurs. When not doing music training and masterclasses, Afrotopia uses music as a way to bring its dynamic community together and ensure a stage for the future for Zimbabwean music.  


Afrikan Freedom Station - An afrocentric multimedia gallery

“We can take it back to South Africa. In the historic neighbourhood of Sophiatown in Johannesburg is the new location for the Afrikan Freedom Station, an Afrocentric multimedia gallery. It used to be located in a tiny room in the nearby Westdene neighbourhood, and has incubated some formidable names in South African Art. An institution, as I would always call it. The small space used to open the floor to Jazz music, either through vinyl Djs or live performances, today in Sophiatown they have what they call the Jazz Room. This is an emphasis of the importance of Jazz music in connection with the art and conversations that resonate within the space. And this speaks to the importance of Jazz as a genre in the freedom struggle of South Africa through formidable musicians like Mirriam Mekeba, Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masikela. As the struggle with Neo-Colonialism continues, the role of the Afrikan Freedom Station is ever more significant and the sounds of Jazz shall continue to echo through its walls.”

Afrikan Freedom Station

Grassroots Venues Can Help Put Creative Industries on The Public Agenda

“I'm excited about this exercise. What catches my attention is that by gathering this group of hubs it’s easy to perceive some common trends amongst them. I think the optimistic narrative that they are promoting about our continent is very exciting. I’m hopeful that by telling the story of the work being done by all of these grassroots projects will help creative industries advance into taking a much more central role in public policy processes across the region.”

Sizo Hlophe

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