Skip to main content
applause, please

Make Music Matter is an organization dedicated to using music to bring an alternate form of therapy to African survivors of conflict and trauma.

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

"You're taking people who are heavily traumatized," says Darcy Ataman, "and restitching their souls back together."

Ataman, a citizen of the world from Winnipeg, is the founder and chief executive officer of Make Music Matter, an organization dedicated to bringing an alternate form of therapy to survivors of conflict and trauma. Through the charity's Healing in Harmony program (and with the partnership of Warner Music Canada) the first four volumes of a new album series featuring the words and voices of traumatized Africans were released for streaming and downloading last month.

The albums of light Afro-pop (including Tomorrow is a New Day and My Body is Not a Weapon) were recorded in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, featuring the songs of survivors of sexual violence and AIDS/HIV or those scarred by conflict.

If the music is lilting and often buoyant, the themes are heavy, with lyrics about contradictions, betrayal, life as punishment and this: "They say time heals all, but everyday feels worse / I got holes in the soles of my feet and my purse."

Speaking from Winnipeg, Ataman talks about the healing properties of music made by stigmatized sexual-assault victims or children psychologically wounded by the sound of automatic gunfire. "These are people who have had all their power taken away, but the act of writing this art and having the opportunity for the world to hear it says a lot about the notion of control," says Ataman, who co-wrote and produced the celebrity-guested charity single Song for Africa in 2006. "They don't need us speaking for them. The music is a way for them to use their voices to validate their stories."

Ataman, who has made some 25 trips to Africa, recalls once taking recording equipment to a remote area of Rwanda, where he arrived to a packed school house, with kids in homemade hip-hop outfits crawling through the windows to get in. "They knew the latest rap songs, even though their town had no electricity."

The Healing in Harmony albums (released on the Samothrace music label) are available digitally only in Canada, but actual CDs were released locally. The hard copies, Ataman explains, are part of the healing process of transference for the singers. "It puts their pain in a physical spot. It's very symbolic, but it really helps. It's the end of the journey."

Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com