A conversation between Valentino Barrioseta, founder and CEO of NGO Bridges for Music, and Adama Sanneh, Moleskine Foundation CEO.
Adama Sanneh Valentino, you have one of the most interesting stories that I’ve heard recently. So, in order to share with everybody else a little bit what you have created maybe, Valentino, can you tell us a little bit about your story and how you move to be one of the actually most influential people behind the scene in a field of electronic music, to create not only a music academy but a music academy that embraces some of the most advanced educational approach that is out there.
Valentino Barrioseta Well, I think industries are often disrupted or reshaped by outsiders of the industry itself. So, someone that has been in education all his life might not be able to see outside of the box, whereas someone that comes from a completely different industry with a completely different angle instead of tools might be able to bring a fresh approach and new ideas that can really reshuffle the whole education industry. Obviously, those are big words, but in our little community that’s what we’re trying to do, and I’ve been always passionate about self-development and coaching, despite my background which I know sounds a bit shallower and entertainment-detaining than education. But even when I was promoting events and running clubs, I was always very focused on human innate talent and human development. I think with Bridges for Music, everything kind of came together.
I studied music because I believed in the community element of music, bringing people together, sharing with my community or my group of friends, artists that I really believed in or that I really loved, and bringing them to my city, Valencia. I believe in the power of music. As cliché as it sounds, I was earning good money, obviously, and meeting a lot of great people from all over the world, celebrities, big artists, you name it. But I was really disconnected from the reasons why I started in the music industry at first. I took a sabbatical year, I went to Brazil where I met a guy that was running a DJ school from a favela there in Rio de Janeiro called Rocinha, and I really felt inspired by his work and how he was keeping the youth really motivated and driven by teaching them how to deejay, which to me was a bit of a meaningless art after so many years in the scene. I was over the moon, and I realized that was kind of the seed of the whole idea behind Bridges for Music, that there’s such an amazing passion out there for moving communities forward through art and creativity and music. But unfortunately, all these community leaders like this guy, his name is Zezinho and doesn’t have connections with big brands, with big companies that can really give them the resources. I felt like the industry needed a platform that connected all these brands and all these festivals and all these big artists to people like him that was doing the work in the trenches, and really trying to make a difference through music.
“I felt like the industry needed a platform that connected all these brands and all these festivals and all these big artists to people like him that was doing the work in the trenches, and really trying to make a difference through music.”
And that’s how the beginning of Bridges for Music came about. Then, I traveled to South Africa. When I arrived to a township called Langa in Cape Town – where the school is now sitting – I saw these super young kids producing incredible house music with super old speakers and super old gear literally from a shack. And that was quite shocking because we associate electronic music with big cities, cosmopolitan places like Berlin or Chicago, New York, Ibiza, you never would expect to hear it coming from a shack in a township in South Africa.
I met Black Coffee back then, and I was super inspired by how young kids looked up to him. I realized the power that he had to influence the youth and to make an impact in these communities where he was a role model. So, we created this tour that had some workshop educational components in the townships. And then we did some normal fundraising events on the side that would raise funds to support local talent to play around the world, afterward through a scholarship program. So, I started bringing — like well together with a lot of other people in the industry — by the way, who become our board members and trustees and kind of supported the mission. We started bringing international artists to South Africa: Richard Horton, Skrillex, Luciano, and years later we ended up with Ed Sheeran and other many artists coming through our program in our school in South Africa.
At first it was just an idea, like how could we bridge the divide that exists in South Africa between the black communities and the white communities? And how can we connect local talent with international artists and international opportunities? During these first workshops in Langa and in Soweto, Johannesburg, we saw a lot of white South Africans entering these communities for the first time. When we announced the first workshop with Skrillex in Langa, a lot of young kids from the city center were asking why we did the workshop there instead of doing it in the city center somewhere else, which would have been more accessible and comfortable for them. We said that’s exactly the point: why do we want to use someone like Skrillex to influence the youth from more privileged areas in the city to come into the venture, into the townships, and to really mix together with people from a different background, from a different race, and through music and their common passion for that artist, maybe start some collaborations or start building some friendships, even as simple as that, really.
“At first it was just an idea, like how could we bridge the divide that exists in South Africa between the black communities and the white communities? And how can we connect local talent with international artists and international opportunities?”
So, we have organized over 50 workshops over the last eight years, with international artists ranging from techno-DJ to pop stars. That was the initial idea, we didn’t really think much further than that. At some point, we started bringing all these artists from the community through a scholarship program to play big festivals in the UK or the Netherlands, like Glastonbury or Tomorrowland. These young talents came back to the communities like heroes and were super inspired by the trip they had done, and full of stories and memories.
But they’re still facing the same problems and is completely outdated schooling system. A big problem was with crime and other problems that South African townships face, such as lack of access to facilities, the Internet, and safe spaces. I started to develop into that educational coaching side of things at the same time and I thought, what if we create the 21st century school, a safe place, that has all the technology kids need to thrive, that is inspiring from an artistic point of view, and where we teach not only music, but we also teach life skills, meditation, business skills that are equally needed, if not more, to thrive and to earn an income.
It’s just much more than music, it’s about human development. We call it a human development center more than a music school. We give equal importance to transferable skills like marketing skills, business skills, finance, Google, and tools that we believe can really empower our students. And obviously, music is still a magnet. We do teach music production, deejaying, and other things as well, which is more of a fun element and a passion element that keeps the students engaged.
“It’s just much more than music, it’s about human development. We call it a human development center more than a music school.”
Adama Sanneh Sometimes there is this misconception that when you think about creativity, people think about something not concrete, while creativity is about bringing real transformation and creating concrete things. If a creative process doesn’t end up in an object, in something real, it loses completely its meaning. And I think it is so interesting to hear your journey that then ended up in creating something that exists, that is a school, that is an academy. What I found extremely interesting is that you started a journey because of your internal needs and through that internal process, you started solving problems and you start meeting people, and you started going more and more in-depth. That continuation of solving a problem at a practical level has been able to create something unique for a larger community. I found it so interesting because there are no bones in your body that say, I went there because they needed me to do everything, I needed to do the journey for myself and through this introspection.
Valentino Barrioseta That’s what they call positive selfishness. I think it’s human nature, we do what we do because we think it will make us happy, and there are people doing better things than others for making themselves happy and understanding happiness in a more positive way. I think it’s the key you need to understand that there are different ways of pushing those things. There’s a nice route that will, eventually, affect positively on the people around you and on the world. And there is a route that will probably damage or negatively affect the people around you. What route you’re going to choose I think that’s up to everyone. Hopefully, more and more people will choose the positive route there.
Adama Sanneh I would like to go back for a second from this idea of creating, starting with the idea of creating a school for deejays to now creating a 21st-century school. I would like you to tell us a little bit more about the programming, about the curricula, because that was not conceived in the beginning.
“I think it’s human nature, we do what we do because we think it will make us happy, and there are people doing better things than others for making themselves happy and understanding happiness in a more positive way.”
Valentino Barrioseta I think a DJ school is not perhaps solving so many problems in a community like Langa. I think we can’t sell the broken dream to the kids of becoming the next Black Coffee. When you come into a community like Langa you need to be extremely responsible with what you sell, under promise and over deliver, that’s kind of a motto for us. It is a very important responsibility to be very careful with how you use that power and not misuse your power.
From that responsibility, we started thinking, what would be the most efficient approach to education in this community? Considering our background, not shying around from the fact that we have been born in the music industry and that’s our strength and we truly believe in the power of music… What if we use music as the magnets to attract the kids into the school and use all these known faces like Black Coffee and all the many artists who have been part of the program to attract them? The reality is that new generations don’t listen to our politicians, they listen to these guys. Artists have a voice, and a lot of artists start because they want to bring a message to the world, and they have the right place.
A lot of our students come from very traumatic backgrounds. And for you to move through life and grow and improve, you need to move past your trauma. You need to leave that baggage behind. You need to develop a sense of self-awareness and really understand what made you who you are, what are your limiting beliefs, how can you break through those limiting beliefs and how can you come out on the other side of being a stronger and better human being. And so, the first part of our program is what we call the “Wellbeing and Mindfulness Program”, which is mainly focused on developing that sense of self-awareness. It’s the most powerful way for our students to heal from everything they’ve gone through, to open up, to tap into the more vulnerable side, to grow out of their own beliefs or their own fears that, as you can imagine in a society like South Africa, are massive. If you’ve grown up in a township, it’s very likely you’re going to end up in the poverty cycle. So, the first thing you need to do is allow the students to think out of the box, to see the world out there, and to develop a sense of understanding of why they’re thinking, the way they’re thinking, and how they could break away from that to develop a new self.
“You need to develop a sense of self-awareness and really understand what made you who you are, what are your limiting beliefs, how can you break through those limiting beliefs and how can you come out on the other side of being a stronger and better human being.”
Adama Sanneh I always have to feel that I not only learn but I also get inspired by what you do, because there is always this sense of doing. There is something that we do in the Moleskine Foundation and the skills that we focus on are critical thinking and lifelong learning, but the central one is creative doing, not thinking. And every time I speak to you, I really see that element that is so strong in your mission and your endeavor.
Valentino Barrioseta Dreamers, there are a lot of. Doers, not so many. And the combination of both even less. People that can hold a vision while they get things done, there are not so many, and I think that’s the key for anyone out there that is starting a new project right now. We always say to the students, dream big but be ready to work small.
This conversation was recorded as one of the Episodes of “Creativity Pioneers”, a podcast by the Moleskine Foundation. This podcast aims to equip all of us with new perspectives and unconventional ideas to amplify our creativity, critical gaze, and imagination. We engage in conversations with unique creative minds from all over the world, to explore and expand our understanding of creativity and its transformative power.
In 2022, Bridges for Music was one of the recipients of the Creativity Pioneers Fund, placing creativity at the center of more inclusive, equal, just and thriving communities.Read more stories like this →