We speak with the husband and wife team behind Lost on You, a record label that is selling records and using proceeds to build schools in Sierra Leone and beyond.
Making a living as a musician is hard. Running a label is also hard. It’s always been a challenge to work in the creative industries but the market has changed exponentially in the last decade and arguably these challenges have become more numerous.
How to turn this into a positive? An answer might lie with the family-run record label Lost on You based in France. What makes their approach different is they are, and have, successfully generated enough proceeds from record sales to build a school in Sierra Leone as well as other charitable endeavours.
In a homogenised market, it’s refreshing to see a different approach to harnessing the power of music. At the time of publishing, the numbers are modest but assessing the project on numbers alone is misguided. For example, the project to build a school in Sierra Leon cost in total €11,741.40. It can be itemised as below:
- Two classroom renovations plus furnishings: €6,334
- Teaching materials for both classrooms: €640
- Supporting one teacher through three years of training at college: €1,055
- Establishing one income-generating initiative: €2,645
- Monitoring and evaluation:€1,067.40
Having sold enough records to raise this amount, the school is now set to open in early September in what is a formidable achievement in a country that can be difficult to operate in. The project caught the attention of Attack via the fundraise Lost on You did in partnership with Beatport and we were compelled to find out more.
Attack: For those who don’t know, who is Lost on You?
Osvaldo: Lost on You is Nina from Poland and myself Osvaldo. I’m Spanish with Cuban origins. We are based in France and I have lived in Europe for the past 18 years.
I will never forget the feeling of being poor, and now that I have a stable life, I decided to help those who really have nothing.
When I decided to leave Cuba I mainly wanted to live in freedom and create a better life for myself so I could help my family, all of whom are now living outside of Cuba. Emigrating to a country different from your own is very difficult because you need to adapt to a completely different way of life but most of all because you have to say goodbye to your family and friends.
As our hours are typically at night, we have the whole day to work on Lost on You and now Forward, a new distribution platform for record labels that we created for the same charitable purpose. I also produce music under the name Kelvin Lucas.
Can you tell us briefly about Lost On You and specifically ‘why’ you’re focused on charity?
Nina: We started thinking about starting a record label in 2017 when I was pregnant. Knowing that my body was creating something so wonderful made us realize even more how fascinating and important human life is.
During that time, I read an article about maternity in Africa, which said that approximately 303,000 women in rural Africa die giving birth. If they survive, they very often lose their babies because of malnutrition, poverty or the lack of medical care. Many of the newborns die within 72 hours. It was devastating and stuck with me.
We decided therefore to create a record label that could help people in need and Lost on You was thus created.
The first release of Lost on you was in January 2018, when I had just given birth, that’s why we usually say that Lost on You is our “second baby”…!
You’ve made regular donations to other charities, but what was it about Sierra Leone that captured your attention?
Lost on You: We had been working with the organization Build Africa, giving them money to provide vitamins and dietary supplements. They then merged with the Street Child organization and that’s when we heard about the School For Tomorrow project they are running which is a program to build 1,000 schools across Sierra Leone.
There is shocking data that 88% of primary-school-age children in Sierra Leone live in rural areas. In these areas. parental education is one of the most important factors influencing children’s enrolment and progress in school. However, 70% of rural Sierra Leoneans are illiterate, and most have never been to school. This is a cycle of illiteracy that needs to be broken.
We chose to work on this project because we share Street Child’s view that achieving universal basic education is the biggest step towards eliminating global poverty. The costs of building the school are not high compared to other organizations. Street Child keeps costs to a minimum, with maximum impact.
They focus on providing essential help, on teaching people to be independent and resourceful and not being frivolous with advertising, marketing, and promotional material. They train the teachers, cover the cost of the school for a minimum of 2 years worth of tuition and provide the villagers with the opportunity to maintain the school independently.
Each family that sends a child to the school will receive two bags of seeds to plant and multiply to pay the teachers with and grow food for the next year.
Street Child has already significantly improved the outlook for around 100,000 children in Sierra Leone through education, and have built more than 300 schools since 2008. Isn’t that impressive?
We chose to work on this project because we share Street Child's view and believe that achieving universal basic education is the biggest step that can be taken towards eliminating global poverty.
Presumably, you had to liaise with local charities, enterprises, educational institutions in Sierra Leone. Was that tricky to organize at first?
We decided to work with Street Child because they have the experience and licenses to operate in Africa. It meant we can focus on promoting music and encouraging people to join our mission.
One of the most difficult things for Street Child is the distance between the coordinator and the schools. It’s common for one person working for Street Child in Sierra Leone to be responsible for more than 30 schools, with distances of up to 100km between them.
The weather is also a big problem. During the rainy season, many of the roads are inaccessible, which delays construction as well as the whole project. A country like Sierra Leone lives a totally different reality and no one who has not been there can even imagine the problems they are struggling with. This requires a lot of patience and ingenuity to solve problems and achieve goals.
Will Lost on You be involved in the education when the school opens next month? For example, will music or indeed music production be taught?
The primary school is open from 8 am to 1 pm so there are not many hours to fit everything into. The children will learn mathematics, English, integrated science, social studies, religious moral education, creative practical arts, physical and health education, home economics and reading (which is the highest priority).
That makes sense but has Lost on You been able to provide production gear to students for extracurricular activities?
We had a conversation with Street Child about it, and unfortunately, logistically it is almost impossible to do so.
Another problem is the preservation of the items. Most of the schools are open and unprotected, so there is a high chance that the musical instruments will disappear within a few days. It is sad, but this is the reality, where even a pen is very valuable.
Will Lost on You be able to do something at the opening, in person, to support the opening of the school?
We wish, but again, unfortunately, there is not much to do or can do. We were thinking of calling there to give them our best wishes, but again with there being no internet or even a mobile phone, it is impossible. It reinforces that what we take for granted is not available there.
We sent a letter with our best wishes by email to the person who is coordinating the construction and we hope it arrives and that someone will read it on the first day of school. It read:
Today we are here with you with our hearts to enjoy this beautiful day. The day when a new school opens and a new door and opportunities arise. Filled with happiness and hope we share with you the beginning of this exciting experience of an incredible adventure that is education.
Many people around the world share this happiness with you today. Thanks to many incredibly talented artists who created and played electronic music and to the people who bought our music we are here today full of happiness and joy opening this school. We, as the record label Lost on You Music, raised and donated the money from the music sales to Street Child Organization, who coordinated the whole project.
We wish you every success and hope that you will enjoy every day in your new school here in Bath-Sint and that you will acquire many of the skills you need to grow into wise and intelligent young people.
With best wishes and congratulations,
Nina and Osvaldo from Lost on You Music.
Is the teacher a local from Sierra Leone?
Yes, the teachers are local, from Bath-Sint, Porto Loco.
Sadly there is a big lack of teachers. Generally, when someone finishes their studies in a national school (which are only in the big cities) they stay in the city. Street Child arranges for those teachers to go to the villages to teach other people to be teachers in the local schools, and the process takes place in June, July, and September each year.
This is how children in small villages can have access to education. Throughout the year, these professional teachers travel from school to school monitoring the quality of the education.
Is there scope to repeat this amazing feat in other locations?
In July 2021 we donated the last remaining amount for the project, 5,500 euros, and we immediately started collecting for another school. Knowing the impact we are having motivates us to keep going.
We hope that the fundraising for our second school will be much easier and faster than in 2020. Our plan is to build at least one school per year and we are doing our best to keep our promises.
As an artist signed to release on Lost on You, they are also committed to giving away 100% of their profits, or is it just the label proceeds?
We ask the artists to give us 100% of the rights, otherwise, our donations would not be possible or the impact would be very small.
We are very grateful and want to thank many of the artists who joined the Lost on You mission and are great friends of ours. These include Blancah, Miss Monique, Nakadia, Kiko, Sparaque, David Granha, Rafael Cerato, Citizen Kain, Marc DePulse, Florian Kruse, D-Formation, Marcus Meinhardt, Jiggler, and many others who have stepped forward to help our cause. Not everyone has been so forthcoming.
We have also decided to give other labels the possibility to join our charitable endeavours and in December 2020 we launched a music distribution platform called Forward. This service welcomes all labels who want to participate in charity work without losing their income. We will only keep 15% of the royalties, which will go to our charitable projects. So far we have 30 labels on board.
Have you had much success reaching out to international charities and getting their support?
Like many others, we have had bad experiences with some charities. In the beginning, we tried to reach out to the bigger ones but very often they do not respond or simply refuse to accept small donations. If they do accept your donation, they cannot specify or indicate where exactly the money will be spent.
Bigger charities are used to receiving large donations. We once knocked on the door of a well-known organization, and they told us that 1,000 euros would not be enough for them and that they could not accept it as it was too much work to justify such a small donation.
We were very disappointed by the position. We work very hard to receive every Euro and we really appreciate every penny, so it was very disheartening and arguably disrespectful to everyone involved with Lost on You. For context, this is an office in an expensive district by the Lourve, full of the latest Apple equipment and included in the list of the most trusted charities worldwide…
Therefore, we have to be very careful because it is not just our money, but the work, talent, and commitment of the artists. That’s why we take a lot of time to research and choose the right charities. Building the school by a large organization would cost us double or triple what we have paid. We have donated 11.741,40 Euros and we are sure that every cent of this amount has gone to actual help on the ground and not to marketing, advertising or other additional costs.
Bigger charities are used to receiving large donations. We once knocked on the door of a well-known organization, and they told us that 1,000 euros was not enough for them
What is one of the most misunderstood aspects of what you are trying to achieve?
Perhaps the only part that people don’t understand is how it is possible to donate 100% of the income without taking a salary? That’s why we always explain that we have our own job and that Lost on You wasn’t created to make a profit. We dedicate our free time and our hearts to this project, and the only compensation we have is the satisfaction of helping other people.
You can see all our donations on our website and we share our income information with our artists so they have a full picture of the financial figures.
Is Lost on You about school constructions or is there more to it?
We decided to work with Street Child because their project is very comprehensive. The price includes building the school and covering the costs of equipment: desks, blackboards, teaching materials for the pupils, teacher training, setting up an income-generating initiative, monitoring and evaluation. All parts are extremely important in order to achieve effective education and thus help them break the cycle of never-ending extreme poverty.
One of the biggest problems in Sierra Leone is the lack of teachers, Street Child is training local people to become one. Many rural schools receive no government support and are forced to pass on the costs to parents who cannot afford them.
That is why Street Child supports schools to set up an Income Generating Initiative (IGI), such as a school-owned rice farm or a seed bank to cover teachers’ costs. They also work to establish strong School Management Committees and support them to pressure the local government to approve the school and integrate it into the national budget.
Another big problem in Africa is that parents are forced to send their children to work instead of going to school. To help families, Street Child offers them bags of peanuts and canary seeds to plant and become independent.
Where will Lost on You be in five years time?
We hope to build at least one school per year. Additionally, we hope to be able to build care centres where people can receive medical care.
It is very difficult to say where we will be in the future. Nothing is certain and a lot depends on record sales.
One aim is to host on Lost on You a release of some of dance music’s biggest names such as like Dubfire, Nina Kraviz, Maceo Plex, Tale of Us, Amê etc. We believe their clout is enough to power our musical revolution. We are trying to change the way people consume electronic music and we believe this would be a big step.
If you are a label looking to distribute with Forward Music, find Forward online.
To support Lost on You consider buying the next release: Haze-M, Ahmet Mecnun: Ibiza EP which will be released on 10th September.