Since 2010, Making Tracks has brought world-class, diverse music from all corners of the globe to leading venues throughout the UK; and this November, the project will make its way to Scotland for the very first time with a date at Edinburgh’s Queens Hall on Sunday 10 November. Project director, Merlyn Driver, spoke with The Fountain about Making Tracks in more depth.

TF: What is this new iteration of Making Tracks and how does it differ from before?

Instead of organising separate tours for mostly high-profile artists and bands, the new Making Tracks model selects individual emerging musicians from the UK and around the world (we’re calling them Making Tracks Fellows) and brings them together for a 10-day residency and a 2-week tour. This year’s residency was in October at the Centre for Alternative Technology (Wales). Making Tracks Fellows will create new collaborative works, explore and develop strategies for social and environmental engagement and receive professional development from a team of industry experts. After that, the group will tour the UK, showcasing their music and new collaborative works at ten of the country’s leading venues, as well as holding workshops at migrant centres and local music education hubs.

We’re interested in musicians whose work is based on, or clearly connected to, specific musical traditions. That can mean anything from someone absolutely rooted in a tradition to, say, someone mixing a vocal tradition like Sámi joik with electronics. I see no reason to differentiate between what typically gets referred to separately as ‘folk music’ and ‘world music’. For me, they’re much the same thing; it just depends on your perspective. One of our 2019 Fellows, for example, is Louise Bichan – a fantastic fiddle player from Orkney. On the other hand, we’ve got Rapasa Otieno from Kenya, who plays the nyatiti (an amazing buzzing bowl lyre). Finally, we’re putting environmental considerations at the core of everything we do, from minimising the impact of our own operations to exploring how musicians can play a part in creative climate and environmental leadership during the residency.

None of this would be possible without the huge amount of work that Making Tracks’ founder Katerina Pavlakis put in over many years, building Making Tracks’ brand and reputation. It’s my job to look after and build on her legacy.

TF: What gave you the idea to revamp Making Tracks in this way?

I studied anthropology and ethnomusicology for a reason – I love exploring different cultures and ways of thinking. What I love most about music is the way it can be a window to society, nature, politics, history – pretty much anything. I think I’d get really bored if I couldn’t look out of windows, so there’s something selfish to all of this really. I find that the music industry is a lot more fun, both as a performer and artistic producer, when you find ways to connect music to all the things it arises from. At the same time, I always had the feeling that there were missed opportunities within the old Making Tracks model. When it became clear in 2018 that Arts Council England were unwilling to continue supporting the project as it was, we found ourselves at a crossroads: let it die, or adapt. I wanted to make the most of the possibilities that exist when you bring together diverse international musicians in one place. I also wanted to bring the values that have always been at the core of Making Tracks to the forefront. Sometimes it feels like there’s a tension between venerating specific cultures and traditions on the one hand and seeking inclusivity and connection on the other. Perhaps a solution can be found in the concept of celebrating difference through connection. Part of our mission is to show that cultural differences are not a threat but something to be treasured.

We believe that encounters between the ‘strange’ and the ‘familiar’ have the power to foster greater empathy, tolerance and understanding across social, cultural and geographical divides. Particularly given the current political climate, I think it’s vital to have a project that’s based here in the UK but open to musicians from around the world. We also want to address the void within almost all music-making and performance when it comes to environmental engagement. As young people mobilise and discourse around climate change and the environment becomes increasingly mainstream, we believe that music can – and must – come to play a greater role.

TF: What are you most looking forward to with this new project?

I’m particularly looking forward to working with the ground-breaking US music organisation Found Sound Nation (Bang on a Can, OneBeat) to organise and facilitate the residency. They’ve been using music-making to connect people across cultural divides, partnering with local youth, social organizations, music festivals, and artists across all disciplines for decades.

TF: What have been/what are you expecting to be the biggest challenge?

We want to get the balance right between solo and collaborative performances and produce a spectacle that the public wants to see – that’ll be the ‘acid test’!

TF: Where do you see the future of Making Tracks?

Beyond 2019 I hope that Making Tracks will lead the way in taking concrete steps to reduce our own environmental impact and fostering environmental and social engagement among musicians. Finally, our new model – and focus on cultural diplomacy and exchange – brings new possibilities for Making Tracks to grow beyond the UK. Of course I’d love there to be a version of Making Tracks in every continent one day, but first we have to prove that the model works!

Tickets for Making Tracks, 10 November, 7.30pm are available now from The Queen’s Hall; £17: https://www.thequeenshall.net/whats-on/making-tracks