The African Network Meeting-March 13, 2021

By Nsamu Moonga-Music Psychotherapist, Co-convenor

In 2020, when life as we knew it changed, South Africa hosted the first-ever world congress of music therapy on the African e-soil. The World Congress of Music Therapy is a gathering of the global community of music therapist organised by the World Federation of Music Therapy. The World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT) is an international nonprofit organisation bringing together music therapy associations and individuals interested in developing and promoting music therapy globally by exchanging information, collaboration among professionals, and actions. The Federation members are music therapy organisations, training programs, certified music therapists, music therapy students, and individuals associated with music therapy. WFMT is an international body with officers, commissioners, and regional liaisons in all regions of the world.

While we worked hard to bring the world congress to Africa, we could not get the world together on physical soil. E-soil became the viable alternative platform because of the covid-19 pandemic that restricted global travel. The short of it is that congress happened to great reviews, not without expected technological hiccups.

Following the World Congress of Music therapy 2020, Dr Carol Lotter, then the World Federation of Music Therapy Liaison for the congress's African Regin and convenor, initiated a gathering for music therapists and multidisciplinary arts practitioners. That networking meeting is in its third cycle since then. The impetus is palpable, and the benefits for practitioners on the continent seeking a community of practice are real.

During the meetings, practitioners have expressed excitement about the potential beginnings of networking and support for each other, considering that most practitioners work in isolated places across the continent. Practitioners are thrilled to explore questions that emerge from their work. I have heard how they feel connected with others, affirming the critical work they do for their communities.

At the meeting held on Saturday 13th March 2021, 24 practitioners attended the meeting held on ZOOM. We had representation from countries including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In attendance were art therapists, art practitioners, music therapists, music therapists, drama therapists, theatre practitioners, movement therapists and dance practitioners, and academics.

We spent two hours listening and witnessing each other's endeavours starting from bourgeoning organisational bodies such as The International Association for Creative Arts in Education and Therapy (IACAET), Nigerian Music Therapy Association (NMTA), South African Music Therapy Association (SAMTA), and the South African National Arts Therapy Association (SANATA).

We heard from the work of outstanding founding organisations that included Music Works; an organisation founded initially to provide music therapy services to underserved communities in Cape Town. Music Works has evolved into a partnering organisation providing a platform for collaborations with community musicians and music therapists. We also heard from the work done by volunteer arts therapists in South Africa in response to the issues emerging out of the covid-19 pandemic through The Frontline Support network.

We celebrated Intlantsi Creative Development Project and their work in training unemployed, marginalised young adults in rural villages around Ngqushwa (Eastern Cape) as arts activity facilitators. Arts psychotherapy principles with a strong influence on Therapeutic Community concepts underpin all training. Facilitators negotiate their relationships with local schools to boost self-esteem and heal activities to over 800 children per week.

We extended the witnessing to the works of individual practitioners, including Ghada Adelrahim in Egypt. Ghada is a music therapist working as a music psychology professor and focuses on supporting children living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Karen de Kock, a music therapist in Pretoria, described her journey to becoming a music therapist starting in her childhood in tending to her sister living with severe 'disabilities'. Her work has involved years of working in a care facility for people living with multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and global developmental delays. Se additionally described her work in mental health and the hospital setting.

Tam Imrie shared the work she is doing as an art therapist in the intersection between faith communities and mental health. Bethan is a music therapist working in a hospital in chad. She talked to us about the paths she is paving to collaborate with musicians such as Djim Jade. Djim Jade is a musician prying his trade in Chad, a country with limited prospects for a promising musician. Djim has previously staged a concert in aid of the hospital following his mother's cancer diagnosis.

Risenga Makondo is a South African based in the United Kingdom. He narrated his improbable journey to becoming a music therapist interested in setting up a community engagement project in the Venda community in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Amos Nonge is a music teacher in Zambia who is currently exploring how to incorporate music therapy principles in a classroom.

These were only some of the stories coming out of this meeting. The list of stories is exhaustive. It is to highlight the value in gathering. We think of the Africa Network Meeting as a way for arts practitioners across the continent to create collaborative partnerships at the intersection of the arts and health. I am excited about this event because we are Africa, the pulse of the world. The networking will evolve into forms we cannot imagine yet. We hear the pulse, and we shall stay close to it to create art that heals.