Sara McGuinness (University of West London, UK)


While much of the focus in popular music education is on high profile gigs and tours, the reality for the overwhelming majority of musicians is quite different. For many, work comprises a mosaic of smaller scale pub, club, function and festival gigs often supplemented by teaching or other work. 

I argue that, while this has been the normal pattern of life for London musicians for many years, social and economic factors have made the life style progressively less sustainable. Statistics show that a growing percentage of musicians supplement their income through other, often unrelated, work and earn far less than the national average salary. While it is hard for mainstream, UK born musicians to survive from making music, the situation is compounded for musicians originating from other countries. 

London is often heralded as a multi-cultural hub but, in reality, in the current socio-political climate there is decreasing support for the diverse and vibrant cultural communities. Musical communities are left to rely on committed individuals who strive to generate performance opportunities in the face of adversity.

In this paper I look at the issue through a ethnographic study of one such individual; Kawele Mutimanwa, a renowned Congolese guitarist, Kawele has been resident in the UK for many years and has established himself as a musical hub; organising and facilitating gigs. I chart Kawele’s role in keeping music alive within the Central and East African communities. This provides a lens into the lives of these communities and the consequences of economic downturn, gentrification and lack of support for the arts. I argue that parallels can be drawn not just in marginalised communities but also in the mainstream music community. This impacts the cultural landscape of London and the quality of life and well-being of London’s diverse communities.