On Saturday, the Berklee team visited a community music program in Nairobi’s Eastleigh slum called Haba na Haba. The project is an after school and Saturday music program that also offers opportunities for youth to participate in dance, drama, puppetry, and acrobatics. Eastleigh is one of the poorest areas of Nairobi. We knew we were getting close when the road went from paved to entirely dirt, and the ride got extremely bumpy.
At this point, we were surrounded by tin shacks and buildings in disrepair, large piles of burning trash, and goats and turkeys roaming free by the side of the road. Despite the poverty, the young people here have a positive attitude and their passion for playing music is clear. Although they have very limited resources, they benefit greatly from attending the program.
Several Haba na Haba groups performed, including an Afro fusion group, a 15 piece brass band, a group for the disabled, and a hip-hop ensemble. The Afro fusion and hip-hop bands were particularly impressive, playing all original tunes. Said the singer of the Afro fusion group, whose name means Déjà Vu, “It’s original (music), but it will sound like you’ve heard it before…We love singing and dancing. This is a happy song we play for visitors.”
After performing, the groups benefitted from individual instruction with Berklee professors Ron Reid and Dan Moretti. Reid worked with the Afro fusion and hip-hop ensembles to tighten up the sound of their original songs.
The brass band consisted of 13 girls and two boys ages 10 – 15. They performed a spirited version of Kenya’s National Anthem, and then went to work with Dan Moretti on some basic techniques and breathing exercises. Moretti offered encouraging words, “I like that you’re playing. Keep at it. Just practice and get better.”
There aren’t enough instruments to go around, and the instruments they do have are lacking some parts and basic upkeep. In an effort to help the situation, Joey and Michael plan to take up a collection at Berklee for used equipment and accessories to send them. Look for donation boxes if you’re around in the fall.
The disabled group played a song called “Jambo,” which means hello in Swahili.
As an aside, a crowd of children from the neighborhood quickly gathered to watch the performances and see about the strangers visiting. They were very friendly and curious, and particularly riveted by the camera’s lcd display.