We had an amazing week in Narobi, where we met many music educators in the region and a great number and variety of musicians who came to audition – including many who just came to be there and experience the vibe of the week.
Firstly, within 2 hours of landing in Nairobi, I visited Club Galileo to witness the finale of a music competition, complete with a production team, film camera, lights, the whole thing. The most memorable entertaining song (with choreography to go with it) with the loudest cheers and back for an encore was was one by a singer Wendy, with a song about “don’t call me THIS, don’t call me THAT, call me by my name…if you even know my name.” I saw a vibrant community of musicians and fans being loud and interactive and fun.
I had several separate conversations with individuals during that (late) evening. For example, I met David, a songwriter, whom Eric Wainaina introduced me to. David wanted to know why we wanted to audition students in Kenya. What we wanted with them. What happens after the audition; what happens with that musician; positive/negative ramifications to the community he/she is plucked out of; selectiveness, relevance, and the politics of the top prize or an ideal recruit, etc. David is possibly in his early 30s (at least) and was explaining his perspective and referring to his own station in life. He also had thoughts on short-term and long-term local benefit of Berklee’s presence in Kenya, and its impact on the industry, the community, including musicians like himself.
Another interesting conversation I had was with Dennis, 22 years old, on the Nairobi police force. Young, smart, and felt he had seen too much real life drama that made him sad, disillusioned – and also like a parent with an impossible burden to keep his city safe and protect the community. This included an interesting conversation about his struggle with caring deeply about protecting criminals from themselves. He specifically talked about the families of the people he had to arrest, about their wives and their children who would be losing the main pillar of support in their homes and families to a prison sentence or some form of humiliation and the short and long term impact they had on/in their environment. He talked about the cycle of violence and crime in some communities, and other tangential thoughts about the development of community programs. Interestingly, this ties in with a remarkable project directed by a participant, George Ndiritu, from the educator’s forum I referred to in my previous post. I won’t describe that program here but I will say there are some remarkable musicians in this world who are committed to the service of others and live within the frequency of community development with processes and benefits not limited to music.
We auditioned about 85 candidates. There was a lot of natural talent and strong motivation and commitment to musical success. With large forces like Eric Wainaina and many other Berklee alumni and other active professionals, I think the current music culture in Nairobi has great future. During the week, we were at various receptions where we met several key musicians representing the professional and the academic environments. There were master classes conducted by George W Russell Jr., and Ron Savage, at the Brookhouse schools to introduce the Berklee classroom experience. I believe this was possibly one of the more enjoyable and positive/intereactive experiences for the candidates there, with something useful that would remain with them after we returned to Boston.
There were several individual events we attended this week and possibly too much to describe here. There were receptions for us at the home of Ambassador Michael E. Renneberger, US Ambassador to Kenya, a larger reception at the home of Inmi Patterson, public affairs office for the US mission in Kenya; then on a personal level, I was looking forward to and did meet an old friend, Jack Odongo, who I had last met in India, 28 years ago. Over the last almost three decades Jack has been a mentor to many of today’s musicians in Kenya and energized the industry through his work as a performing musician, recording artist for television, then successful producer, and now a campaigner for gospel music and gospel related initiatives. We attended several professional performances in Nairobi that included local artists including a powerful performance by Eric Wainaina’s band at Club Afrique, finally with a concert at the Mavuno Dome by Kenya’s most prominent jazz-fusion keyboardist, Aaron Rimbui. If this interactive audience was really into this party before, Eric Wainaina came out to sing one song with Rimbui’s band and had the entire crowd on its feet singing with and back to him. Eric has this magic (there I go again with that word) and I am proud to be able to say, “that is Eric W, class of 2002”
Its not possible to describe this week in this short space without either leaving out details of the events or mention of amazing people who made our week successful. I should mention Kavutha Mwanzia (Asiyo), class of ’00, of course Eric Wainaina himself, his staff at the production company, Eric’s assistant, Noni Mburu, Moses Watatua – director of music at the Brookhouse school, a most professional/patient/long-suffering Joseph, the chauffeur of the Brookhouse School van, the very very generous Brookhouse International School in hosting Berklee on their campus, and a dangerously entertaining G-DUB Russell Jr. Without all these and several other caring folks this week would have looked very different and may not have even taken place.
Signing off for the last time on Berklee in Kenya.
– Sam Skau – Office of International Programs, Berklee.