Making Tracks is an innovative music project to encourage collaboration between musicians from around the world. It brings together emerging artists or ‘fellows’ to share their musical traditions and aims to empower them to use their music for the greater good. This Sunday, it comes to Scotland for the first time, with a date at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. We asked project director, Merlyn Driver to tell us more…

Can you explain how Making Tracks works?

Instead of organising separate tours for mostly high-profile artists and bands, the 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 ten day residency and a two week tour. This year’s residency was held in October at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, where the fellows created new collaborative works, explored and developed strategies for social and environmental engagement and received professional development from a team of industry experts. Now 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.

What artists do you work with?

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.

What is your vision for Making Tracks?

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.

I want to make the most of the possibilities that exist when you bring together diverse international musicians in one place. 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.

What is or has been 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!

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!

Making Tracks is @ Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on Sun 10 Nov 2019