Song Contest To Record With Sam Roberts Spotlights Issues in Africa

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Aspiring pop stars hoping to balance dreams of glory with something more meaningful should consider entering the My Song for Change contest, currently accepting submissions until June 1.  Last year’s winner got to record with members of Billy Talent and Sum 41; this year it will be Sam Roberts. The producer is Grammy Award-winner David Bottrill, known for his work with Tool, Silverchair, Rush, King Crimson and I Mother Earth.

Now in its second year and coordinated by Canadian charity Make Music Matter — which focuses on the transformative power of music to address the challenges many African nations face — My Song for Change invites Canadians, 16 and over, to submit an original piece focusing on global issues they face along with other youth across the world.

"We wanted to do something to engage Canadians and tie in the work that MMM does internationally in Rwanda and the Congo," Make Music Matter CEO/founder Darcy Ataman tells Samaritanmag. "To do a national contest where Canadians submit songs that inspire hope and change was, we felt, the best way to do that. So we’re talking about a world-class studio and a world-class producer.

"Once that’s done, the video is released on all social media outlets and the song is released to iTunes. Western Union is our corporate sponsor, so that helps. And any funds raised from the sale of the winning song are directed to charity. Songwriting rights stay with the artist but mechanicals go to the charity.”

There’s plenty of reasons to be stoked about the thing. The winner will have his or her song professionally recorded by Bottrill at Toronto’s famed Metalworks Studios alongside Roberts.  There is also a video component and, of course, the good feeling that comes with writing and recording a song that raises awareness of pressing issues in the developing world.

Last year’s inaugural winner, Victoria B.C.’s Trevor Kidd, got to record his song "Little Dreamer" with Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk, and Sum 41 bassist Cone McCaslin. Online voting to determine a short-list of candidates will commence July 25 with this year’s My Song for Change winner — selected by an expert panel including Roberts, Bottrill and Ataman  — announced August 15.

STORY CONTINUES AFTER THE "LITTLE DREAMER" VIDEO:

Participants can upload their original musical composition via lyrics only, audio only or performed (audio and video). Bragging rights —and maybe some serious mainstream attention — to follow. And while the My Song for Change contest doesn’t directly impact the work Make Music Matter (MMM) is doing on the ground in Africa, Ataman says, “I like to think of it as ethical advertising."

Last year’s inaugural My Song for Change contest drew an impressive 182 submissions, most of which hit the mark thematically, says Ataman.

“The 2013 contest surpassed everyone’s expectations, which is why we decided to make this an annual. Plus it demonstrated how music can resonate beyond ‘where are we going to go this weekend to have a good time.’”

Indeed, the work of Make Music Matter — in particular, its Music Enrichment Program (MEP) — strives to put music to work as a healing thing in places sorely needing all the healing they can get. It has many moving parts but, to borrow from its website, MMM’s Music Enrichment Program, “engages and educates youth affected by extreme poverty through two primary components: public health education and music education.

“Local educators facilitate interactive seminars, using songwriting and other media to teach youth about issues affecting their communities, like conflict, HIV/AIDS, and violence against women.”

The site continues: “Cooperative music-making and performance, in the case of many of these young people, is a tool for rehabilitation, therapy and personal development. Working together develops leadership and group work skills, while building self-confidence and a sense of identity. 

“One of our objectives is to foster leadership skills that will empower participants to share the information they receive with their friends and families. This will ultimately result in lasting, measurable change in their families and communities.”

Music created by MEP participants is also used as a tool for health education, the MMM site stresses. With the help of local musicians, MEP songs are professionally recorded, collected, and disseminated back to the local communities through hard copies and over local radio stations as advocacy and prevention tools. Live performances and digital distribution also ensure the MEP’s health messages are accessible, and spread easily.

So, adds Ataman, “The songs recorded in Africa [a place he has so far visited ‘10 times and counting’] are becoming popular not necessarily because of the subject matter but because they are well-produced songs. And that’s actually better because it translates more easily. People are reaping the therapeutic benefit of that message without even realizing it.

“I have spent a lot of time on the ground in Africa and it’s important to me that we actually make tangible differences.”

Asked what criteria the My Song for Change judges are seeking in finalists and ultimately, the winner, and Ataman says, raw talent, thematic gravitas and of course, that ephemeral but utterly recognizable something-something that earmarks all great songs and is absolutely palpable on first listen. 

“We’ll be asking, ‘Is this a song we can make an A-level song out of? Can we take this into the studio and turn this into something really popular?’ In that sense it’s similar to the songs we are helping to create in Africa.

“Last year’s batch of submissions made it clear that Canadians were not only knowledgeable about the surrounding world but empathetic to it as well. It was surprising and humbling and really restored my faith in the work that we’re doing.”

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.