Could busking – street music performance – be a tool for social change? It’s an idea I’ve heard artists mull before. Here’s one opportunity to do just that next month, in April, in support of building badly-needed school facilities in southern Zambia. And yes, digital musicians can participate, thanks to terrific, affordable, battery-powered amplification.

I do hope this could launch a discussion, though, on how to organize this kind of action, and how to make busking work for good.

Ben Matthews, founder of the charity, writes:

LearnAsOne,a UK-based charity dedicated to funding schools in Africa, announces the launch of its first annual BuskAsOne, a week of busking events around the world from 19-25 April 2010. The charity is hoping to raise £22,800 to help build schools in rural Zambia.

The busk is open to any musician, singer or instrumentalist, so if any readers of Creative Digital Music would be interested in joining in with BuskAsOne, they should register at where they will find all the tips and guidance they need for a safe, hassle-free busk.

In July, the LearnAsOne team will return to Zambia and share stories, photos and videos from the schools to show it supporters exactly how the funds they raised are spent.

The communities that LearnAsOne work with are extremely dedicated. They are happy to make tens of thousands of bricks by hand and contribute labour for free to give their children the opportunity to go to school. But they can’t afford raw materials such as cement, roofing sheets and windows. This is where the busking money comes in. £22,800 will allow LearnAsOne to fund four new buildings – two new classrooms and two teacher’s houses. This will secure the education of 60 children every year.

The video at top features an orphaned eight-year old young woman who must walk 14 km every day to attend her school.

I had some follow-up questions for Ben:

Why the connection with music specifically?
At LearnAsOne we try to come up with fundraising ideas that allow people to take part in things they enjoy and also raise money to fund schools at the same time. There’s WalkAsOne, a series of sponsored walks for people who are active. BakeAsOne, a month of cakes sales, for those who like their baking. And BuskAsOne, for musicians.

What do you think the role of musicians can be in this case?
The main role is to help raise funds to build new classrooms and teachers’ houses at Simakakata in southern Zambia. But there is also another way musicians can help. We believe that everyone who donates has the right to see their money in action, so we use our website to share stories, photos and videos from every community we work. By displaying a poster while they are busking, or mentioning our website on their blog, MySpace or twitter feed musicians can ensure donors see the difference their spare change will make in Zambia.

Is there some sense that this kind of support for schools can eventually lead to self-sufficient school construction funding in places like Zambia?
Self-sufficient school construction is unfortunately just a dream at the moment. The Zambian government simply doesn’t have enough budget to construct all the schools the country needs, which is why many communities rely on the support of NGOs such as LearnAsOne.

Our aim is to fund schools in a sustainable way. We only work with resourceful communities who can prove they really want a school. At Simakakata they had made 60,000 bricks by hand before we first met them, and the community are happy to provide labour for free. But they simply cannot afford the raw materials such as cement, windows and roofing sheets. That’s where the busking money comes in.

After the construction is completed the school will become self-sufficient in many ways. If there are proper classrooms and teachers’ houses the government will provide trained teachers for free. And as the teachers arrive the government is more likely to provide the school with text books they need. Our goal is simply to provide the infrastructure the school requires and then move on to help another community. And then another.

More on Busking?

I discussed some of this project with our friend and artist Onyx Ashanti, who has himself reflected on ideas for how busking could work as aid. He noted that you may need to do some more research here, like working out how to get charity status or get around noise ordinances. (Here in NYC, for instance, you can’t just go out on the street right away, though it’d be interesting to combine this with established outdoor performance events.)

There are also questions of how to establish financial accountability.

This is a great start, though; I hope it inspires some conversations about the role of busking, ways in which street performance can be de-marginalized throughout the world, and ways in which that art can better support artists and other causes. And if you do decide to participate in this event, let us know. Electronic music has deep ties to street performance, from the roots of many or our musical idioms to the one man band tradition. It’s about time to re-forge that connection.