When Safiya Leslie would perform her genre-spanning concerts at Boston venues like the Beehive, she’d tell the audience to “grab your passports — we’re going on a musical journey.”
Today, Leslie’s own passport remains tucked away, as the COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated many of the performance and travel opportunities the 2020 Berklee College of Music graduate was looking forward to. But the Afro-Caribbean singer/songwriter is now giving world music fans a chance to explore the sounds, sights, and tastes of a different country each month through her Safiya’s World Music Tour Playlist subscription boxes.
Each box includes a QR code for a Spotify playlist, postcards, and a USB drive — designed to look like a cassette tape — that introduces subscribers to an artist from the featured county (with whom she shares in the proceeds of the sales). Food and gift items from the country of the month, extensive travel guides, and private Zoom concerts with the artist are included at higher subscription levels.
The boxes were born out of the downtime that Leslie faced after both her booked gigs and travel plans evaporated, along with the theatrical sound engineering work Leslie was hoping to make part of her post-college career. “I did a show on Zoom but it just made me more depressed,” she recounts. “Then I tried curating some playlists on Spotify where we’d explore a different country for two weeks, and my fans loved them.”
This winter, realizing it would still be a long time before the performing arts fully rebounded, Leslie thought about the subscription boxes she has used to make meals and to sample cosmetics, and realized that a similar service could connect global music fans with homebound musicians. Her first box, devoted to Kenya, included tea, a rice spice blend, jewelry, and carved soapstone along with the Afro-pop and R&B of EduArdo Omondi. Madagascar is the latest country to be featured, with China up next.
That first box was sent to only five subscribers. Leslie then got the attention of social media influencers, including Noël Norcross, whose YouTube channel is devoted to videos of her “unboxing” the contents of different subscription services. Twenty subscribers have now signed up for Safiya’s World Music Tour Playlist boxes. Mass production isn’t the goal. “Ideally I’d like to scale it up to 50 to 100,” says Leslie. “That way it would be a nice amount for the artist each month — like what they would have gotten from a gig.”
“It’s been very therapeutic, but also a lot of work,” says Leslie, who majored in music production and engineering and music business entrepreneurship at Berklee while minoring in ethnomusicology. Besides choosing the songs and writing the travel guide, Leslie sources the gift items. “I’m trying to support other small businesses, especially ones that give back,” she says. “For instance, I found the Kenyan soapstone on Etsy, and then talked to the owner about how her family does the crafting by hand.”
Leslie, who performs under her first name Safiya, has a real-life gig at the Point Reggae Festival in Casco, Maine, in June, and is looking forward to the long-delayed video shoot for her debut recording. But with international travel and US tours by international artists likely to be among the last sectors to fully recover, Leslie plans on keeping the boxes going. “I have the featured artists lined up through the rest of the year,” she says.
Safiya’s World Music Tour Playlist boxes range from $29.99 to $630. Go to https://safiyas-world-music-playlist.cratejoy.com/ for details.