Berklee in Africa – Part Two – South Africa

July 24, 2008 at 11:59 am (Karen, Trip 2008)

A year has passed since our Music Therapy group returned from the service-learning experience in Kenya. The friends we met have stayed in touch and we are especially connected to the Shangilia Mtoto wa Afrika Children’s Choir in Nairobi. They toured in November 2007 with Songs of the Spirit tour with Hugh Masekela and Odetta throughout New York and many of us were fortunate enough to be with them. Shangilia CDs, entitled Rejoice Child of Africa that were produced by JD Steele (executive producer, Tony Micocci) and recorded in New York City when the children toured New York State in 2007 are now on sale at Java Houses throughout Nairobi.

It is also on sale on the internet at CD Baby at Individual songs are purchasable for digital download. This has been set up through the Shangilia Foundation, USA, so all proceeds net of the handling charges retained by CD Baby, will go to SFUSA.

Our work with Shangilia led us to Kimberly A. Gamble-Payne, Special Adviser, Adolescent Development and Participation Programme Division, who has been advising us on the next phase of development for Music Therapy in Africa. After many meetings, phone calls, and presentations, the next phase of our fact finding mission is bringing us to South Africa.

Brenda Stevens Ross, Manager of the Music Therapy Institute at Berklee and I will be traveling to South Africa to ‘explore possibilities’ of building a new experiential, service learning trip for students in the summer of ’09.

We leave on August first and we’re hoping to share our experiences as we venture into the beauty of southern Africa. I wish I could bring all the students with us who traveled last year but that is not feasible – a new adventure begins…..


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Reconciling Priorities

June 5, 2007 at 4:45 pm (Karen, Trip 2007)

    We are back physically but that’s about it. How do we prioritize what to do next? Yesterday, I taught my first class for the summer semester at Berklee – MTH 431 – “Music Therapy and Medicine” – I can not teach that class the same way as in the past – music is healing, music is health and music is empowering – this, I have always believed but now it has even more meaning. In Kenya, I have seen firsthand, how music can elevate the human spirit and is woven into the very fabric of living – no separation between health and music – it is one. No need to write in medical charts, give workshops on the power of music to heal, or do extensive research projects – music as a healing modality is embraced and accepted and part of the culture.
    As the trip began to wind down, we packed more into each hour – spending time with the children at the orphanages was a priority. Listening to their stories, creating songs with and for them, and then recording the music at Eric Wainaina’s studio all seemed like a natural part of the day and night. Eric introduced us to his business partner, Tim Rimbui, a gifted recording engineer, who graciously and patiently worked with us and the children. Both Eric and Tim gave of their time and resources to support this project and for that, we are indebted.
    While the Music Therapy students spent their final days at Shangilia, I was invited to visit the African Cultural Research and Education Foundation (ACREF) centre in Baba Dogo. Eric is working closely with George Otieno to create performance-based programs for youth as well as parenting programs for those with children with disabilities. Wyndy joined me and we met children with cerebral palsy, visual impairments etc. Wyndy started singing to a little boy who was blind and again I was impressed how comfortable our students are to connect with children, no matter what the disability or where the location – from the Kennedy Day School in Brighton to Baba Dogo in Nairobi – children are children.
    On the morning before we left, Isaac Kavehere, Vocal Director at Shangilia came to our hotel to give us a vocal master class. He conducts a 250-member Unity Community Choir and he brought some members with him to teach us, “Atiyo Ni Ruodha” (I’m Working for My Lord”). With everything that presented itself, the students rose to the occasion and put their hearts and souls into the dancing and singing. It was like an aerobic workout, but much, much better. I felt quite fortunate to be able to learn and listen to traditional African melodies that still maintained the authentic elements and were left intact.
    Where do we go from here? I went on a ‘fact-finding’ mission for music therapy and Berklee and returned with much more than I imagined – the music, the children, the potential to develop innovative partnerships… Musicians for World Harmony kicked off this initiative and it continues to blossom and grow. Is there really a way to sustain the relationships and experience for others? Indeed, there is….

    Shangilia Children’s Choir is coming to the United States this fall/winter 2007. Tony Micocci, International tour agent for the children’s choir is pulling the pieces together. Last year, this group went to Greece. This year, they will be spending a majority of the time in New York, but there is talk about Atlanta, Minneapolis, Washington, DC – why not Boston? They want to come to Berklee – making that happen, would be a dream. “How” is the next question….

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Sustaining the Experience

May 28, 2007 at 5:36 am (Karen, Trip 2007)

The seeds have been planted…the connections have been made…the music has been recorded and the extensive video footage documents both the process and the product. But now what? The trip was so short and condensed – can we put this in a bottle and take it home with us? Not really.

This experiential-immersion learning opportunity has complemented the academic studies and encouraged reflection – it gave the students a fresh look at themselves, their education and the world around them. What was profound for me was the student’s accelerated learning curve – in the final practicums in music therapy at Berklee, students are working in medical settings, primarily with children who are quite ill. Students learn to take musical risks, “embrace rejection” as a means to develop self awareness and the confidence to step into the unknown. Sometimes, it takes 2 semesters for the students to begin to understand the process.

For the students on this trip, it was almost immediate. They were ready and open and supported – internally and externally. Across from the PanAfric Hotel, where we are staying, there is a large building called ‘Integrity Centre’ – I think it is an office building, but it really doesn’t matter – these students are responsible, accountable and have much integrity. There has been plenty of opportunity to party and go out ‘clubbing’ but collectively they decided it would take away the focus of the work that is so important. I admire and respect each of them so much. They are leaders and will help set the agenda for music therapy in the future.

I dream of tomorrow, today…

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STR 8 UP – Six Million Viewers

May 24, 2007 at 11:47 pm (Karen, Trip 2007)

Yesterday, we appeared live on Kenya’s biggest television youth talk show – STR 8 UP – The Kenyan Television Network (KTN) became famous for Activism Journalism in the 1990’s and continues to serve a wide viewing audience throughout Kenya. Yesterday was quite surrealistic – the morning we were watching herds of elephants in Amboseli and 4 hours later, we’re in downtown Nairobi in a 16-story high rise, under the glaring lights of a television studio…and it was music therapy and the work that we are doing in the orphanages that brought us there….

Don Rawzi, Music Director at Nyumbani, has paved the way for us to take our work to new levels and visibility. Through his contacts in the music industry, not only are we raising awareness of the benefits of music in health and healing through local media, but we have also been given opportunities to perform and record our original compositions with the children and Eric Wainaina at the Splash Music Festival on Saturday. We will be performing, “Asante Sana”, a song composed by the group and dedicated to, and inspired by Samite Mulondo, Director of Musicians for World Harmony

“We have been blessed with your gracious soul,
Which never stops giving and makes others whole,
Your music is healing and touches the heart,
And though you’ve reached many,
It’s only the start…. Asante sana…” (and it goes on)

The songs that the students are writing flow, freely and with ease – each song has its own history and meaning and is inspired by this beautiful countryside of Africa and the people we are meeting.

Two days ago, some of us visited a manyatta, a Masaai homestead and were given a guided tour by Joel Tumuke, the son of the Chief Elder. Joel who serves as the Principal, Teacher and Headmaster of the Inchurra school invited us to view a lesson in the one-room school house for about 25 children of all ages. We listened to the children’s music and then Claudia taught her “frog” song that has become quite popular with all the children we are working with – this really is about sharing music – the men and the women of the village sang for us and then we sang for them and then we sang together – The Maasai have their distinctive customs and dress quite different from ours, yet we connected on a personal level – jumping, humming and swaying in unison together – people are people no matter where you go.

And musicians are musicians – today at Shangalia, we met members of the Kenyan accapella group, Petamony who sang with us and the children. 3 members of the group have just been accepted to Berklee and they came to the orphanage to meet us. New friends with much to offer… and then there is Isaac Kaguri Kavehere, Vocal Director at Shangalia. He is a composer, arranger and gifted teacher and performer. His original compositions incorporate traditional african melodies with western classical elements. He has graciously shared the scores and has offered to work with us as a group next week before we leave and teach us a Luo Medley in 4 part harmony – “Atiyo Ni Ruodha”. I am awed by each day keeps getting better and better yet harder and harder….

As we drop deeper down in authentic connections with the children, there is great emotional costs. As music therapists, we learn how to build trusting relationships through the music we use and how to set boundaries for ourselves and others. But this is hard – these children are in great need and the natural tendency is to want to ‘save’ them.. but we can’t… and we won’t… all we can do is share the gift of music in the moment. Are we making a difference? We have been transformed, but have they? This is where faith, trust and hope steps in…we do believe…

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Blending of Beauty and Despair

May 22, 2007 at 7:23 pm (Karen, Trip 2007)

Thanks to all of you who are reading our blog – we feel that we are taking you with us on this powerful experience.

Watching the students at Nyumbani on Sunday was like watching a music therapy laboratory in action where each student brought their own music, style and gifts to the children. As a teacher, it was quite reinforcing to see that what we teach and how the students were able to integrate that knowledge and transfer it to foreign settings worked. The songs that were written, the children’s smiles and joys at being listened to and heard were met with dignity and respect. I am confident that these music therapy students will continue to do well wherever they go.

A day later, we were on the way to Amboseli National Park to go on an African Safari – everywhere you look there are zebras, elephants and other animals you’d never find on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. I feel so lucky to be able experience this abundance and beauty – it balances the work in the orphanages and we are able to experience the immense beauty of Africa – the sun continues to shine brightly on us. We are so lucky.

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Connecting with Eric Wainaina

May 20, 2007 at 5:19 am (Karen, Trip 2007)

Yesterday, Samite introduced us to Eric Wainaina, a Kenyan Kora Award-winning singer-songwriter who coincidentially graduated from Berklee a few years back. Eric’s career has taken off and he has become quite popular all over Africa. with-eric-w.gifWe all stopped by his new studio in Nairobi and listened to a soundtrack he is putting together and reflected on days in Boston. He listened to some of the experiences we have had thus far in the orphanages and he offered to join us next week at Shangalia – I can’t imagine the joy that will bring to the children who live there, especially the teenagers.

There is something quite special about this trip – everything about it is new and foreign but there is so much comfort in the music – it is the power of music that serves as an introduction and connects us to each other and to the people we meet. The music composed by the students daily is spontaneous and inspired…and good. Today, we go back to Nyumbani orphanage to work with the children – all of them have been affected by AIDs, have experienced different levels of trauma and many are quite sick – yesterday’s musical exchange brought uplifting energy, group cohesion and positive vibrations.

As the days unfold, I am inspired by the resilency of the human spirit to persevere in the face of adversity – we have such lessons to learn from the children we are working with. It is quite humbling.

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