Sunday, July 12, 2009

Soweto Buskaid vs El Sistema (Venezuela)

After seeing Soweto Buskaid in concert last night, I thought I would try and compare it with Venezuela's El Sistema.

Both target children living in difficult circumstances (though not all those in the Venezuelan Band fall into this category, 'only' 90% do - that's a pretty good achievement in terms of targeting). Buskaid is privately sponsored (by Total petrol); El Sistema is publicly funded, under the heading of 'Social Action for Music', possibly by the Health Ministry.

El Sistema has 250,000 children participating at any one time, apparently 30 professional symphony orchestras (see Wikipedia) and is creating many very fine soloists, musicians and not least conductors (Dudamel); the population of Venezuela is 27 million; thus almost 0.1% of the population are in El Sistema. The Buskaid project is one music school in Soweto (population 900,000), which takes 80 students (0.01% of the population) and turns away 100s more, due to lack of funding. Rather than an integrative system, Buskaid is more an elitist system - but, it's privately funded, with apparently no state support. (It should be said that there may be other, similar projects in other townships - a violist friend is involved in a similar project in possibly another township, but that does not have as high a profile).

El sistema was started by a Venezuelan, Mr Abreu, whereas Buskaid came into being through a British violinist, a foreigner. El sistema grows its own conductors (well, it does have a huge base) whereas Buskaid is still a string ensemble and conducted by Mrs Nalden; who conducts a bit (I am sorry) like a school teacher - do those children really need two bars counting in? I do wonder whether another conductor, a local one, might not have let the children's personalities and their exuberance (all children are, or should be, exuberant) out. Perhaps the rather refined 'early performance practice' is not the best approach for this age group? But with such a small base it will be hard to find someone....

It would be great to persuade the South African government to expand something like Buskaid, but locally there is probably no evidence base whatsoever to show that it keeps children out of trouble (especially since I suspect that the children chosen to be accepted are probably those who might not get into trouble in the first place).


Anni said...

Hi - absolutely fascinating to see the comparison. El Sistema seems to be hitting the mark in the Raploch, Stirling (where I cut my teeth on social development)because it is a universal provision. Do you think it depends on the cultural approach to social policy? Education is far from free in S Africa except at the most basic grade - as indeed in many parts of the continent. Our colonial heritage failed to export the welfare state!
Viola congress should be great. How's your neck? Mine bad the last three months but great osteopath - will email you the exercise instructions.

Anonymous said...

One minor point, well, a slight addition. El Sistema grew thanks to both private and government support in from the seventies. Mr Abreu is a remarkable visionary and, not least important, undertands the spiritual rewards of great music. The present Venezuelan regime still supports it, but then, how could it not, if it is such a wonderful propaganda vehicle for them? I imagine any future government will continue supporting El Sistema.

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