With a solid experience at GreenPop’s Festival of Action in the books, we took advantage of the remaining time in Johannesburg, South Africa to plan the next stages of Conservation Music’s (CM) trek. Not only were there big projects on the horizon, but Bryan Murphy, CM’s Field Photographer from the United States, was due to join us for the remainder of the journey. We are pumped for Bryan to land on African soil, as he offers a specialized skillset and expertise in the realm of professional photography and video production.
CM’s Field Crew Grows
Alex Paullin, CEO/Founder, and Chris Volosevich, Project Manager, wrapped up a few of CM’s loose ends, and then it was time to head over to the OR Töambo Airport in Johannesburg to welcome Bryan. The flight was longer than expected, and Bryan was experiencing minor culture shock, so Alex decided to take the crew out for some genuine African food. We unloaded Bryan’s gear at a friends place in Kensington, our home for the next few nights, and then hit the streets in search for the promised grub. The first place that we walked into was called “Africana Restaurant,” which sounded ideal, but ended up being some sort of makeshift computer lab. We laughed off the awkward encounter and then headed to a nearby pizza joint, selling cheap slices and 2-liter ginger beers. Stuffed and satisfied, we headed back to the pad and caught up on overdue sleep.
Over the following week, we showed Bryan all the local hot spots, which mostly consisted of food joints. Cafe J’s waffle topper, a plate stacked with two waffles, an egg, bacon, avocado, and hollandaise sauce, seemed to be the crew favorite. Despite the copious amounts of comfort food, it took Bryan a few days to fully ground himself to the African lands. We used the extra downtime to fit in a few jam sessions and set solid plans for the next months to come.
After a long hiatus, we decided to return back to Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho. We spent four hours winding through congested city streets, dodging pot holes and impatient drivers, before finally arriving. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a place to stay in the city, and ended up driving 45 minutes out of town to the Trading Post in Roma. It’s a much different scene here, as mountains and trees jutted above the skyline in place of the tall buildings that we were expecting. We arrived at the Trading Post and decided to rent a rondavel, a structure similar to a yurt. The place was amazing, but too expensive and far from the city. Luckily, after a few days, Tsepo, a musician, friend and avid supporter of CM, invited the crew to stay at his house for the week. This was definitely an upgrade, as we managed to save money, but we were still a good ways from the city. Tsepo shared his endless advice and support for CM’s mission, even claiming that he would make the Our Music, Our Environment documentary the biggest film to ever hit Africa. Over the next few days, we gathered and activated everyone who will be involved with the film’s production. Alex made use of our trips to the city by meeting with partners, investors, and several talented, local musicians.
UNEP’s Young Champions of the Earth Grant
On our last day in Roma, we rose with the early morning sun to get started on a new filming project for the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Young Champions of the Earth (YCE) grant. Among a large group of applicants, Alex was chosen to be one of two North American finalists. In the next voting round, an international jury will choose six young environmentalists from the remaining contestants to receive $15,000 towards helping their ideas come to life. This grant could boost CM to a new level, so everyone put all of their energy into producing the video. We shot footage all morning, with a break for lunch, and then hiked a local mountaintop that overlooks Ha Thetsane, one of the nearby villages. With yet another spectacle of natural light, Bryan captured breathtaking footage of Alex’s testimony, lit by the backdrop of a dazzling sky. Over the next few days, we continued to record footage that would be wrapped up by the end of the week. Bryan was pumped with how everything was turning out, and couldn’t wait to share it with the world. Watch the full-length video here!
Energizing the System
With the video complete, and no immediate plans, we headed out to the mountains in Ha Ramabanta for a community gathering and campout led by friends, Tereo and Langa. These two are environmentally charged artists, who are escaping the busy city life in Maseru by creating an artistic community in the mountains. We didn’t know what to expect, but after driving through the beautiful mountain roads, we arrived and were warmly embraced by a group of like-minded individuals. Everyone spent the evening joined around a fire, while singing songs and playing a wide mix of djembes, guitars, and shakers. We shared beans and porridge, and then everyone slowly dispersed into their personal dwellings. The nights were frigid and hard to sleep in, but well worth the amount of wisdom and energy exchanged each day. As Bryan and Chris hiked through the surrounding areas, they had a chance to take in all of it’s natural beauty. Sadly, it was evident that the lands were affected by environmental issues, such as burning, erosion, low water tables, and pollution. Bryan felt CM’s purpose come full circle, and had a first-hand encounter with why the earth truly needs our help.
The Field Crew Wraps Up Loose Ends in Maseru
As the weekend came to a close, we were unsure of our next destination. Luckily, as everyone was packing up the car, Langa’s parents invited us to stay at their place in Maseru. With the comfort of week long plans, we tied up loose ends in the city, polished digital content, and laid further groundwork for the Our Music, Our Environment documentary. Tsepo continued to contribute to the project by connecting the team with supporters and fundraisers. Finally, after catching up on our work, we headed to Thaba Bosiu with Pitso Rah Mahkula, on the outskirts of the city. This was the birthplace of “Manyabolo,” a climate change and water scarcity song, and the plan was to complete it. It wouldn’t have been the same without the unexpected contributions by local female artist, Mapule. Her eloquent voice meshed right into “Manyabolo,” which gave us the idea to include it in the webseries video as well. That night we all crashed in one of Pitso’s cabins, and woke up the next morning completely surrounded by his beautiful gardens.
CM heads to South Africa!
The following morning we continued our journey to the much anticipated Pump For Peace event in Pretoria, South Africa. Pump for Peace is a global initiative, created by Velosolutions, that unites the community through multi-genre music events combined with mountain bike races. The venue was fully stacked with pump tracks, food vendors, and a huge stage. The concert featured a plethora of music with amazing acts such as Karen Zoid, The Parlotones, Tidal Waves, Desmond and the Tutus, Black Cat Bones, and The Sweet Resistance. Alex and Chris set up CM’s booth, while Bryan photographed the event’s most incredible moments. Towards the end of the weekend, MiTech Direct granted CM a sponsorship fully loaded with five brand new guitars, one of which was symbolically handed off to Alex on the main stage after being invited to promote CM’s movement. Alex was also interviewed live by StreamIt360 shortly after. This event boosted CM more than anyone could have imagined.
Following another long weekend of field work, we headed over to Shoshanguve to visit Albert, the “Drum Whisperer,” who the crew met earlier this year at the MTN Bushfire Festival (Bushfire Festival). We were able to catch up and spend quality time together by heading out to a local Jazz Injection event. It was an open jam session, where musicians collaborated with bass, keys, guitar, djembes, and drums. The music being produced sounded incredible, as the various instruments naturally melted together, laying a perfect platform for poets, rappers, and singers to lay lyrics on top of. At the end of the night, Albert was kind enough to let us crash in his room, allowing for enough rest to complete the next leg of the adventure.
The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast with Albert and then hit the road for our five hour journey to Swaziland. The accommodations for the next two weeks were with Rob, who generously offered his giant studio building as a homebase. If you aren’t familiar with Rob, he’s the legend who housed us for awhile after the Bushfire Festival, and connected CM with many artists and musicians. Once again, Rob showed off his amazing pizza making skills and made sure everyone was well fed. His guidance, hospitality, and support for CM cannot be replaced.
Throughout the first week, Alex discussed a contract for next year with executives from the Bushfire Festival, while Chris and Bryan focused on post-production work. We were able to release our first web series, detailing CM’s past work, and then immediately began documenting for the next episode. We had many opportunities to explore the surrounding area, including a visit to the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Rob had to conduct business in the area, so we all traveled to the other side of the mountain together. The ride over was gorgeous, but the real views were waiting for us inside the reserve. It wasn’t long before we saw countless antelope and impala scattered throughout the grassy plains. Further in, we saw warthogs and zebras, but we really wanted to catch sight of the iconic wildebeest. Alex had to stop at the headquarters to meet with the reserve’s marketing team, and then we set off to experience more of the lands. As the sun was setting, we ventured up a mountain road and found a small herd of wildebeest. Bryan snuck on the roof, where he was able to capture beautiful photographs of the moment. After traversing down the backside of the mountain in the dark, we stopped at Execution Rock in search of an abandoned railway that supposedly cuts through the mountain. We hiked all the way to the base of the mountain, but decided to turn back due to the realization that wild animals were in our presence. We returned to Rob’s, and rested up for another day of work.
The next morning, CM geared up to attend Swaziland’s Umhlanga Ceremony, the “Reed Dance.” Unfortunately, we had an issue locating our press pass, but after that we were quickly immersed in the grand celebration. The entire event is a tribute to Indlovukazi, the “Queen Mother,” where thousands of women scantily wrap their bare bodies in brightly coloured prints, carry hand cut reeds, and dance in grand formations. It lasts for eight days, but CM only attended for one. Bryan captured spectacular footage of the event, and then we all headed back to prepare for our morning travels back to Johannesburg, then Maseru.
Back to Maseru!
On September 8th, we landed back in Maseru to begin the production of the Our Music, Our Environment documentary, and preparation for the concert in Malealea on October 28th. We have been seeking out local, as well as corporate, funding to help with logistical costs for the project, while rallying artists and musicians to help with the songwriting and performance. Shortly after reaching our destination, CM was graciously invited by Alliance Francais de Maseru, to hold a fundraiser during one of their recurring wine tastings. The goal was to help secure additional funding and support from the local businesses and philanthropists attending the event. We had a successful evening, as several businesses pledged generous donations towards CM’s mission. These locally raised funds will be exclusively used to give back to the volunteers and artists involved in our projects.
The next morning we completed further production work for the documentary, and then began writing the responsible herding campaign for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German NGO helping to shape the future of global sustainability. CM and GIZ agreed to a contract, including the creation of three songs, with accompanying music videos centered around responsible herding. We managed to step away from the heavy workload by making a visit to the Phelisanong Children’s Orphanage in Pitseng, a beautiful home for orphaned and disabled children. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone, as we played music for the kids and enjoyed the day together. Just when the children thought it was over, Alex pulled out the drone and sent them all into pure excitement. CM will certainly be making another visit in the near future.
Once we had returned back to the city, we started the next stages of preparing for the documentary, which consisted of a couple of weekend trips to Malealea. We had to meet with the Sotho Sounds and find someone to fill the role of a young shepherd boy. Meanwhile, we have continued to hold meetings with musicians and vocalists, and produce songs of climate change and conservation. Bryan and Chris also managed to catch a ride to Lesotho’s 51st Anniversary of Independence event in Matsieng, where they were a part of a tree planting and donga-filling ceremony hosted by King Letsie. Get an inside view of CM’s story by checking out the latest CM Webseries!
CM is busier than ever before, but we are managing to balance it all. Luckily, CM consists of many volunteers that are willing to donate their time and talents to ensure success. Be sure to stay tuned into CM’s web series, blog, newsletter, and social media for updates on our field work, the UNEP’s Young Champion of the Earth results, as well as the production of the documentary film, Our Music, Our Environment!
This post was written by Charles Ross for Conservation Music.
About Conservation Music
Our Musical Nonprofit For Conservation
of Conservation Music
Conservation Music is on a mission to produce and promote musical media that educates listeners and viewers in conservation and sustainability, with an emphasis on rural developing communities, and to serve as a platform for similar efforts. Currently, the organization primarily collaborates with musicians throughout Southern Africa, catalyzing songs in local genres and local languages regarding local conservation issues in countries like Lesotho, Botswana, Angola, and more.
About the Founder
After years of soul-searching and months in the African wilderness with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, musician and geographer Alex Paullin combined his foremost passions and founded Conservation Music, a non-profit aiming to foster a global culture of sustainability using music as the messenger. Throughout his life he aims to expand the Conservation Music movement globally, in hopes that his lifetime will see and hear songs of conservation being sung throughout the world.