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Western Classical Music Gains Popularity in Kenya

Beethoven, Bach, and other giants of Western classical music are becoming more of a hit in Kenya, especially among young people. The recent launch of a classical music magazine and a growing number of concerts and programs on radio stations are a sign of the new popularity. Supporters say this type of music can compliment traditional African beats.

Tenor Zac Njoroge is on his way to Israel, where he was given a music scholarship to study performance and conducting.

The 21-year-old, who dreams of starting up an opera house in Kenya, says classical music is his passion.

"My dad used to play this [classical music] in the car, everywhere, as we were going to church," Njoroge said. "He used to play this music at home. So it really got into me. Then he had to buy me a piano to start training myself on how to play the piano."

Njoroge was one of three Kenyan tenors who sang recently in honor of Luciano Pavarotti, the late Italian tenor who Njorge hopes to emulate.

Kenya's boom in classical music is especially pronounced among the young.

Enrollment in private tutoring sessions at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music has gone up 25 percent within the past two years.

Three radio stations in Kenya now offer regular classical music programming.

Elizabeth Njoroge studied classical music abroad. Back home the soprano not only performs, this year she also founded the magazine Classics, for Kenya's classical musical lovers.

"In Kenya as a whole I think there has been a rebirth of the arts, and not just music," she said. "There are also a lot more plays happening, more art exhibitions."

Njoroge says the country's growing middle class now has more money, time and other resources to appreciate and pursue the arts.

Kenya has a rich heritage of traditional music, with the country's many ethnic cultures having distinctive instruments and beats.

Music teacher Lola Akwabi says she thinks the presence of western classical music in Kenya does not detract from the country's homegrown music, that there is room for both.

"It is very interesting that someone will actually walk in here and tell me, why are you doing this Western culture, why aren't you doing your African culture? And I am thinking, you should be dressed in a skin, speaking Swahili asking me that question," Akwabi said.

Any debate over Kenya's native music is far from student Jonathan Wamukota's mind. He says he loves Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

"A nice, still water edge, it is just as the moon is rising and just a sliver of moonlight pierces through the trees and just lands on the water and the reflection is slowly dancing there," Wamukota recites.

Images and beauty Wamukota says he gets from the music he loves.