Music and the Urban Soul of New Zealand
People in Your Neighbourhood
An intercultural urban music project creates new opportunities for local artists to collaborate
It may sound like a song from the popular children’s television show Sesame Street, but People in your Neighbhourhood (PIYN) is an Auckland project, like its namesake song, showcases the diversity found within the city’s music scene.
Started in 2009 by the British Council New Zealand, PIYN was launched as an innovative music collaboration to highlight Auckland’s increasing creative and multi-ethnic diversity while working with artists from the UK.
Beginning with a cross-cultural album and moving to live performances and a documentary, the project’s success has grown through the years and is ready to launch in Melbourne, Australia.
In the Beginning
PIYN was part of a larger program to develop intercultural dialogue through the British Council (BC) to represent the changing ‘face of the mainstream’ in the arts.
The project was developed by Gareth Farry, the BC’s development manager in Auckland, who had previously helped establish the country’s first multicultural talent agency. The idea of producing a multicultural and multi-language album started to interest Farry when he noticed the changes occurring in the local music scene.
“The vocalists are already working in different languages and applying their cultural musical context in a new urban landscape that is Auckland,” says Farry.
Initially, the idea was to gather young, diverse musicians and give them the opportunity to collaborate musically by producing an album together that combined ethnic musicians and songwriters, alongside other more established producers and artists. The hope was that they would create a work that combined the latest in production values, while retaining distinct elements of the different cultures involved.
The result was a free downloadable album that brought together 17 local musicians with UK-based Urban Soul Orchestra in an eclectic collaborative mix of soulful beats and rhythms. The self-titled album features New Zealand-born Chinese writer Renee Liang, Korean rapper Joshua Jang, Brother J singing in Maori and English, GuZheng player Xiyao Chen, Spanish Flamenco singer Maite Elguetta Clavelle, and Brazilian singer songwriter Mani Fegundes. The bulk of the tracks include both English and another language (the recording is available here).
According to Farry, this is the first time something like this has been produced in New Zealand.
“PIYN is a whole mix of cultures collaborating with world class talent from the UK and others here in a modern intercultural urban music project. This is not ‘World Music’, but global music.” says Farry.
“The album will act like long strands of a net, reaching out into ethnic communities in New Zealand and drawing the music back to a central creative hub. The idea is to create ‘stars’ in each community.”
Since the completion of the album, the musicians have performed together including in Auckland and at WOMAD in New Plymouth. The show is a choreographed multimedia event with traditional Chinese strings, Pacific drumming, Asian street breaking and African dancing as well as street fashion.
To connect directly with cultural youth in Auckland, posters were produced in a range of languages while advertising targeted ethnic newspapers, radio and media to draw those audiences to the mainstream event. Although labour-intensive, the effort was seen as critical because appropriate and respectful communication is a cornerstone to the project.
“In order to directly engage ethnic audiences in Auckland, it is vital that they are communicated to in their own language, and in a context that will foster inclusiveness,” says Farry.
“99.9% of our communication is in English yet that is not the mother-tongue of many, many people living here. If we don’t learn to communicate more widely we get left behind and we all miss out. These are hybrid cultures, they are highly creative and there is no precedent.”
Since the completion of the album, the PIYN project has continued to grow. A documentary that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the musical collaboration is finished and more performances have taken place in Auckland, Wellington and Taupo.
PIYN has also broadened its scope to include capacity-building for the arts as well as acting as a catalyst for collaboration between artists of different cultural backgrounds. The new focus is on providing workshops to aspiring ‘creatives,’ which allows for greater outreach as well as one-to-one mentorships. PIYN has also developed an online toolkit to help artist build their businesses.
Recent projects include bringing UK’s HipHop Shakespeare to Auckland as well as hosting an online collaboration project, ‘the Other Side of the World,’ where UK and New Zealand musicians created an online music project using Skype and other programs. There are plans to release an EP and make it available via Creative Commons New Zealand.
Its continued success has resulted in PIYN introducing its project to Melbourne and Brisbane in association with British Council Australia in July 2012.
Making it Work for You:
- Consensus and respect are key to the project's success. Organization and communication must be transparent and agreed at all times. This takes time and holds for all aspects of the programme, from selection to rehearsals to publicity and documentation. Don’t save anything for later!
- Use existing connections. Build on what is already there – link expertise together. Foster an environment that is mutually beneficial and can facilitate the flourishing of hybrid creativity.
- Use a range of languages in communication. This takes time but is vitally important for both attracting a diverse audience as well as respecting the performers.
- Use media technologies which “speak” to emerging leaders in their own languages -- television, video, media and social networking -- and encourage them to look for collaborative inspiration and expertise.
- Make the product freely available – share the fruits of your success.
For this Good Idea contact:
Gareth Farry, British Council NZ
PO Box 91488 AMSC
Auckland, New Zealand,
+64 9 3023560