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Berklee College of Music Group Travels To Kenya for Cultural Exchange
(Published: June 13, 2014)

A group of Berklee College of Music students, faculty and staff will participate in a cultural exchange program in Kenya from June 18 to July 7, where they will teach and perform Western music; and learn about traditional Kenyan music, instruments, dance, and culture. This is the third annual volunteer trip to Kenya sponsored by local organization Global Youth Groove (GYG), whose mission is to transform the lives of youth through music.

The program is spearheaded by Berklee staff member and native Kenyan Sam Lutomia, cofounder of GYG and cofounder of Acacia in Kenya, providing support for girls' education. Participants this year include students Cara Smith, a dual major in music therapy and performance, and Natasha Ostapovicz, a dual major in music business/management and performance; and Berklee voice instructor Rene Pfister. As team leader and music director for the trip, Pfister will design and coordinate the training and workshop materials.

The group will spend a week in Nairobi, visiting schools and community music programs including Daystar University, the Kenya Conservatoire of Music, the Kenya National Youth Orchestra, and Kabarak University, and will perform with Kijani Kibichi at the French Cultural Center. They then travel to Western Kenya to conduct voice workshops at Maseno University in Kisumu and attend the Western Kenya Choir Festival, interacting with educators and students performing classical choral recitals and Kenyan folk songs and dances accompanied by traditional instruments.

In addition, Smith will practice music therapy at orphanages in Nairobi and Kakamega. "Music is used as a therapeutic tool in many cultures. Whether or not it is labeled ‘music therapy,' it has the same emotional, spiritual and social impact," said Smith. "My dream is to reach the children through music and create individualized goals depending on their needs by teaching songs and activities they can keep and perhaps teach others after I leave. This trip is going to be an amazing learning experience. I plan to trust my instincts and implement all I have learned from Berklee."

The group also plans to visit music programs that GYG initiated during its previous trips using donated instruments, laptops, and recording software. Both programs - GYG Center in Nairobi and Kakamega High School - have production studios and performance space where the volunteers will do voice workshops and jam and record songs with local youth.

Several up-and-coming Kenyan musicians, including Elee Elee Musicc, Grace Kavesu, Josizoh, and Deodinmega, made their first recordings at the GYG studios. "These artists learned how to play keyboard and guitar, and do basic recording and production," said Lutomia. "Josizoh has moved on to established studios and his songs are now played on national TV and radio. He is also touring and performing in major Kenyan towns."

The GYG group will also be hosted by Kenyan educator Joseph Muyale, who recently attended classes at Berklee for a week as part of the college's African Scholars Program. Muyale, founder of the Boys Choir of Kenya - who performed at President Obama's first inauguration ceremony - volunteers with GYG and was instrumental in starting its artist mentoring program. Volunteer instructors at the center in Nairobi also include Billy Karani, Dennise Ihaji, and Andrew Akolo.

For this trip, GYG received additional equipment from Berklee that will allow them to set up a new base in Nairobi. Donations included used laptops; desktop production gear (MIDI keyboards, Mbox Minis, and a mixer); dvds and instructional books; and instruments including a piano, drums, saxophones, bass, and guitar.

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