From making an application to connect Caribbeans in the Diaspora to localized and curated culture-specific music content, to a documentary about modern-day Rastafarian life in Ethiopia, Jordan Muthra is making innovative connections to the African continent-at-large.
“We as Africans in the Caribbean don't often inherit generational wealth. But what we are equipped with is ingenuity, creativity and intellectual property. Now we've entered the information age, so the access to information, the barrier to entry, is much lower for anyone in the world,” explains Muthra.
He says this in reference to the innovation burgeoning among Africans in the Diaspora, including African-Caribbeans.
“It could be in a village in Africa and in Nigeria…, Ghana. You can go YouTube and learn anything you want, get the principles and utilize your ingenuity to to render something into existence and so it’s a very exciting phase.”
Muthra’s current project, called Island Stream, is a Caribbean multimedia distribution platform and curation tool. He was inspired to create this app when, during his research about the global markets for Caribbean creative practitioners, he felt that that there was a value gap between content and the value of the content.
For example, reggae music, one of the most popular genres in the world, comes from Jamaica. So Muthra’s reasoning is that if music was to be a metric to measure a country’s Gross Domestic Product value, or GDP, Jamaica would have the highest GDP in the world.
“But what you're finding is that the value that is ascertained from the content does not go back to the community. There is a dire need for a platform that caters to the community, because just looking at the Caribbean, there are about ten million people in the Diaspora.”
So what is unique about Island Stream’s curation tool?
Island Stream features location-based content delivery services. Therefore, when a user opens the app, curated news, music, film and other information is presented based on the country that is selected. This curation tool utilizes a hybrid of human editors and or machine learning to select relevant content.
“We want the experience to be as if that person were on the island, or in the respective country that the content is coming from,” says Muthra.
In addition, Island Stream hopes to streamline the legitimization process of app-based music distribution, by introducing a fluctuating equity model, where artist revenues are based on the revenue earned by the app’s play of the content. This means the artist could earn up to 70% of the revenue earned, according to Muthra.
Right now, Island Stream is considering working with Nigerian-based software developing company, Andela and other tech companies in Africa, to further strengthen the connection to culturally-created content.
He is also partnering up with reggae musician Chronixx for further app development.
They're reputable there, well received locally, and they're fast. And the quality of the work is like world class,” according to Muthra. “If I hired a team from Silicon Valley, or even from New York, they just they're going to select out the cultural understanding.”
Now onto Muthra’s documentary in Ethiopia.
“I was embraced by so much love, you know, especially being that, like I'm from Jamaica,” explains Muthra, about the reception from the people of Shashamane, Ethiopia.
Some background, former Emperor Selassie, during his his rule in Ethiopia made a deal with the Ethiopian World Federation, giving 500 acres of land to Rastafarians wanting to repatriate to Africa. They were given the land to develop, and create a community for themselves. (See links below about Shashamane.)
“So there's been, an influx of different people from around the world that returned. I met black people from France, the French Caribbean, Spanish Caribbean… I [even] ran into Bob Marley’s former road manager,” says Muthra, describing the cultural atmosphere.
“That experience was very interesting because it was like going back into the beginning of time. Like a new development…, occurring from scratch! And we were focused on music as an organic, global immobilizer because what you'll find with reggae music is that has actually inspired..., a paradigm shift.”
Slideshow: Today's Shashamane
According to Muthra, Shashamane, though arcane in appearance, has been developing agricultural technology for the Ethiopian land they live on. Some residents started businesses because they had access to certain technology and different practices including new irrigation techniques, that neighboring locals have not like utilized because of cultural norms that have used for farming.
“They can actually bring that knowledge back to the local ecosystem, to innovate things like irrigation and farming. And I saw I saw evidence of that,” says Muthra. “This community lacks government support. But the sentiment that I got when I was there was that they still need a lot of resources, because they moved somewhere where there was only a local economy and the customer base.”
This brings Muthra and I back to the conversation about innovation and technology in modern Africa.
“It's just tapping into the continent.” says Muthra. “Look at Akon. [During his press conference] He pretty much said that Africa the only place you can go and start a Fortune 500 company. Africa, it is the last frontier.”