WHEN Madagascan musicians Toko Telo played the National Centre for Early Music in York in April last year, it brought down the curtain on nine years of Making Tracks world music showcases. Or so we thought.

"Very sadly this will be the last of the Making Tracks concerts here as they didn’t get their Arts Council grant," said NCEM director Delma Tomlin at the time. "It's a real pain for us and of course for Making Tracks, who are devastated.

"We've been welcoming them here since September 2010, as part of a network of 12 venues, and though we’ll carry on with world music, I’m sad for Making Tracks as they have been very creative in their choices."

Joy of joys, however, a new Making Tracks model has risen from the ashes of 30 tours and 317 concerts, featuring 139 musicians from 36 countries, and so a two-week tour that begins on Monday in Oxford will visit the NCEM on Friday.

Making Tracks was established in 2010 by Katerina Pavlakis as a travelling season of concerts, bringing new, exciting and diverse talent music from around the globe to venues across Britain four times a year.

Under the new model, developed in partnership with the ground-breaking American music-exchange organisation Found Sound Nation, Making Tracks will continue to showcase unique music traditions but also initiate new collaborations, explore “strategies for social and environmental engagement” rooted in music and provide the participants with professional development from a team of experts.

In late-October, eight emerging musicians from Britain and overseas gathered as Making Tracks Fellows for a ten-day residency at the Centre for Alternative Technology in the footsteps of Snowdonia, before setting out on 10-date tour, showcasing solo performances and collaborative works incubated during the residency, as well as holding workshops at migrant centres and music education hubs.

Taking part are Kaviraj Singh, from Leeds; Melisa Yildirim, from Turkey; Rapasa Otieno, from Kenya; Barbora Xu, from the Czech Republic; Louise Bichan, from Orkney, Scotland; Katariin Raska, from Estonia; Petrosyan, from Armenia, and Silva, from France, Britain and Spain.

Orkney songwriter Merlyn Driver, director of Making Tracks, says: “We’re really excited to start this new chapter for Making Tracks. 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.

“Given the current political climate, we believe that projects like Making Tracks - based here in the UK but open to musicians from around the world - are more important than ever.”

Merlyn, Pavlakis’s former assistant, was inspired to revamp Making Tracks in the new format by his anthropology and ethnomusicology studies. “I love exploring different cultures and ways of thinking,” he says.

“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.”

Merlyn wants to maximise the possibilities that exist when diverse musicians are brought together in one place. “Part of our mission is to show that cultural differences are not a threat but something to be treasured,” he says.

Making Tracks Fellow Rapasa Otieno can attest to that creed. “Being a part of Making Tracks 2019 has been a fulfilling experience, which has helped me to learn more about other traditional musical cultures, and teach other people about the indigenous music of the lake region Luo community of western Kenya and the Nyatiti, an eight-string lyre from this region,” he says.

“I’m excited to showcase the hard work of our collaborations. I hope the York audience enjoys our music and in doing so we encourage more access to culturally diverse music.”

Looking ahead, Merlyn, who comes from a family of conservationists and biologists, says: “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. Part of that means making practical changes, but it also means bringing reverence for nature into emerging musicians’ music-making.

“We have a ban on any musician travelling by plane if they live within 15 hours’ reach of the UK, so, 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.

“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.”

Merlyn has one further wish. “Our new model - and focus on cultural diplomacy and exchange - brings new possibilities for Making Tracks to grow beyond the UK,” he says.

“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 Friday’s 7.30pm concert are on sale on 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson