Aids, war and famine – Africa is a continent in despair. That’s the the prevailing western view, according to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author. She believes that this single story of Africa is a barrier to development. It’s a story that needs rewriting – and music tourism in places like Malawi, Tanzania and Mali is playing a key role in countering this dominant narrative and is creating a new story for African countries.
The World Cup in South Africa has helped to develop a new audience for the continent. Cultural events, like sports tournaments, provide a sense of excitement and a sense of place that influences tourists’ choice of destination. Music and arts festivals are attractive to travellers looking for new adventure and experiences.
African music is enjoying massive popularity worldwide – the opportunity exists for countries to create events that marry cultural and economic interests and attract tourist dollars to boost economies in Africa.
There are clear business benefits in developing cultural events which are attractive to tourists. The Rio carnival brings in an estimated $500 million into the country’s economy each year. The South by South West Music and Media Conference & Festival (SXSW) in Texas brings in around $100 million to the previously little known city of Austin.
Africa has its own success stories, the Lake of Stars arts festival in Malawi contributes $1 million to the Malawian economy according to a recent study. Tourists bring in around a quarter of a million in foreign currency.
Developing industries and ideas
The impact of music tourism is felt internationally, with flights being booked in home countries, but it is regionally and locally that the economic benefit is most keenly felt. Taxi drivers, lodge owners, restaurant owners and street vendors all benefit directly and support thousands of dependents. Festival goers spent around $400 on average in and around Lake of Stars.
Moreover, music events can be direct drivers of industry by being a forum for discovering new talents and attracting new investment. Festivals are an important part of the creative economy which, according to a recent UN report, has the potential to generate income and jobs while promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development.
The impact of events last well beyond the final song being sung or football kicked or tourist dollar spent. In 2010 over 200 million people were made aware of Lake of Stars through coverage on CNN, BBC and local media.
This positive African story attracted 3000 people from 30 nations to the shores of Lake Malawi to see 300 artists perform. Behind the numbers there is also a less tangible but equally compelling story of shared experience and of how people, organisations and ideas mingled creating long lasting connections.
Music tourism tells a new story, one that has direct economic impact but also plays a key role in changing perceptions of Africa and helps position the continent as a place of opportunity.