A group of university students and alumni has returned to the United States after three weeks in Kenya, where they were part of a cultural exchange program which aims to transform lives through music.
The group, from Berklee College of Music in Boston, taught music, performed, donated instruments to a local community center and learned about traditional Kenyan music.
Music is an integral part of life in Kenya.
“Growing up, I sang a lot in school. And we had competitions and choir and music every year,” says Sam Lutomia, a staff member at Berklee College of Music. Born and raised in Kenya, he now lives and works in Boston. “When I moved to the States, I got exposed to a higher level of music and I was like, 'Is there something I can do now that I'm in the States?'"
He co-founded Global Youth Groove, with the goal of exposing Kenyan young people to Western music and encouraging them to pursue a career in music.
“I started talking with students at Berklee College of Music and faculty members and they all responded positively," says Lutomia. "And we started collecting instruments. After that, we traveled to Kenya last month to start a community center.”
Thirteen Americans made the trip, including four high school students from the Boston area. Among them was 17-year-old Marina Miller.
“We started out in Nairobi,” she says. “We got a chance to meet with local musicians and listen to them play."
In Kakamega, in western Kenya, the Americans presented a gift.
“We’ve gathered like 20 instruments,” says project coordinator Aaron Colverson. “They include acoustic guitar, electric guitar, acoustic violin, flute, clarinet, saxophone, also a trumpet and a trombone. We had some recorders and also an entire drum kit, lap tops and recording software."
Dozens of young Kenyans, between the ages of 15 and 30, took workshops offered by the group.
Berklee student David Chapman says, for some of the Kenyans, it was their first time seeing and touching such instruments. “Their music classes would just be them reading books about western instruments.
The workshops offered a more hands-on approach.
"We would lecture for a while and teach, everything would be very interactive,” Chapman says. “If anyone had any questions or wanted to play with instruments, we would always welcome that.”
The group also held workshops in orphanages and performed at a national music festival.
“When you put music in front of kids, it seems that their minds open up,” says project coordinator Aaron Colverson. “Music gives them a chance to express themselves through songs and writing the songs.”
Throughout the trip, the group met with local musicians and listened to them play. They also learned about traditional Kenyan instruments, dances and songs.
The short trip has had a lasting impact, according to Nairobi native Wambura Mitaru, who studies at Berklee.
“Up until today, kids are talking to one another,” she says. ”There is one young man, his name is Scott from Kenya, and he plays violin. He met with Aaron Colverson from Berklee. They really got to jam with each other and play the violin and Scott got to learn about different things. He now plays everywhere, when he can."
Trip leader Sam Lutomia is happy with the enthusiasm generated by the exchange program. He hopes the trip becomes an annual event and would like to expand it to neighboring countries.