Nonprofit gives musicians record deals —if they promise to donate to their post-conflict or post-disaster homelands
It’s the summer of 2010 and Jeff Aresty has just launched an online “American Idol”-style competition for international artists.Aresty, a lawyer with a tech background and a vision of a more musical and peaceful world, had a hunch that music could empower conflictridden communities. With his company PeaceTones, he was banking on that idea. If he could bring opportunity and success to talented musicians in post-conflict and post-disaster countries, he would then watch the country swell with pride, and, hopefully, money.
Each morning during the summer of 2010, Aresty anxiously jumped on his computer to check Facebook. Were people checking out his artists? Were they voting? Were the communities, some hailing from underdeveloped countries, paying any attention? Was anyone paying any attention? Each time he refreshed his computer, the votes for each contestant grew. By November 2010, the number of votes for Wanito, an unknown 22-year-old singer from Haiti, had reached 10,000. (To note, Wanito is now working on his second album, was awarded “Star of the Year” by the Haitian Parliament and was named one of the “Top 12 Personalities of the Year 2011,” along with Bill and Hillary Clinton, by Haiti’s oldest daily newspaper, Le Nouvelliste. He also sold out two U.S. concerts.
It was going to work. Aresty and his team were going to give unknown talent from underdeveloped countries a chance at international success — record contracts, concerts, world tours and money!
The initial competition began with 100 people in Haiti traveling to Port-au-Prince for auditions: The winner would come to America to record an album. The key difference for Another PeaceTones’ hit includes Ato Periférico, a group of teens from Brazil. Among the band’s recent accomplishments is being awarded an international peace prize at the Freedom to Create awards ceremony in Vienna, Austria. FALL biography for voters to view. The Facebook contest lasted three rounds until an artist was chosen as the PeaceTones’ newest client. What were they looking for? An artist whose impact could help his native community.
PeaceTones was created in 2008 as part of a larger initiative called the Internet Bar Organization. The goal for Internet Bar was to use technology as a means to empower people. PeaceTones, following this idea, focuses on using music
specifically for empowerment.
PeaceTones looks to post-disaster and post-conflict areas to find talented musicians, who can then use music as a way to give back. “They wanted to find people in the community who were already positive mentors and have a strong connection with their community,” said Ruha Devanesan, vice president and executive director of PeaceTones.
“They can make an income from their own productivity,” Devanesan said. “As opposed to having someone else coming
in from the outside and giving money or resources for a short period of time and then leaving.”
Aresty was acknowledging the power of musicians: they have massive potential to make a positive impact in their
communities. “If you can support a musician in their community and give them a way to make a sustainable living,
then they can continue providing that positive influence in their community,” Devanesan said. The musicians simply
need support and recognition, which is where PeaceTones comes into play.
In addition to the Facebook contests, PeaceTones also selects musicians from poverty-stricken countries through traditional talent hunts. Once the team brings on musicians, PeaceTones helps develop their skill set and teach them the ins and outs of the music industry.
“PeaceTones started as a way for artists around the world to have legal knowledge and know their rights,” Devanesan said. The workshops educate musicians on legal rights, how to market themselves and how to give back to their community.
PeaceTones also sells the musicians music online. “We send back 90% of the income to these musicians,” Devanesan said. “We then have these musicians commit to giving a percentage of their income from the album to a community development project they choose in their local communities.”
PeaceTones will soon launch a series of Youtube workshops to reach and educate a larger set of musicians. The organization hopes to one day host a concert where PeaceTones-affiliated musicians can come and perform together in one place.
Wanito proves digging up great talent in struggling countries can boost national pride.
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