Welcome to India!

Day 1: I arrived in Mumbai at 3 in the morning. I got in the first available taxi and attempted to pull up directions on my phone and instructed my driver how to get to my hostel. By some stroke of the Google Maps Gods, we somehow made it to the hostel. We agreed on X number of rupees, but he didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Hindi, I don’t know. He started yelling at me and locked me in the car until I paid the “appropriate” amount and left me on the side of a highway, in the dark, in Mumbai, at a hostel. I walk in, the front manager didn’t speak English and shoved me in a room and I went to sleep in my dirty airplane clothes.

Day 2: This was my 8th country during my fellowship. I knew the drill. Find the bathroom, find water, find food, find the bank. I compare it to being like a baby. I need to be changed. To be cleaned. To be fed. Luckily, I met a friend in the hostel, Kyle. He was American, and he turned out to be my best friend in India. The funny thing is, I thought he hated me for the first 3 weeks of our friendship. Kyle took me to get my first meal in India, which were samosas from a street food cart. All I could think of while I was eating that delicious samosa was my Aunt telling me to not eat the street food because I could get really sick. I ate it anyway. And another. And another. I felt like a ticking time bomb, but nothing happened. If anything, I felt weird from overeating!

I usually give myself time to acclimate to the country. Get to know the area, see which neighborhood do I want to live in, how to go grocery shopping, etc. By some stroke of luck, I discovered my suite mate from junior year at Rice, Lavanya LIVES in Mumbai! We then decide to meet up that day at the zoo. It was so amazing to see a familiar face, let alone halfway across the world!

Day 3: I was incredibly lucky to be in India during one of the most colorful holidays of the year, Holi, which is the celebration of the arrival of Spring. Lavanya and her roommate invited me to celebrate at their apartment. I arrived at their place in the morning and ate breakfast with them, which consisted of cheese Lavanya’s dad brought over from the US. For people who don’t know, international cheese is incredibly expensive in India, so it was an incredible treat for them to share their treasures with me.

We then all go outside for the festivities. Everyone is outside in the streets! Old Bollywood classics are playing, children running around throwing colored powder and water balloons at everyone, food carts line up to sell snacks. All I can say is that I am so happy I remembered to bring a change of clothes! A couple of days later, I was still washing pink powder out from the inside of my ears.

Check out more pictures from the festivities in the “India” tab in “Pictures”

Day 4: I was already done with the hostel life and sharing a room and bathroom with 10 other strangers. I ended up finding a nice private room in the neighborhood of Versova. I walk into the apartment to be greeted by a cat and my host, Rikky. Never have I thought that I would be such good friends with my Airbnb host and his cat, Zen (even though Zen and I had a tricky relationship with personal space). Not only did we instantly bond on our mutual love of Seinfeld and pulled pork sandwiches, but he also introduced me to all of his friends and helped me get situated in Mumbai. This included telling me where to eat, how much to pay for things, how to set up my phone, and explaining where we lived to my Uber drivers.

One of his friends was coincidently a musician who works for a musical non-profit from Australia, named Meera. We instantly clicked and she even let me tag along to some of her rehearsals. One day, Meera invited me to her Capoeira class by the ocean. Capoeira is a form of choreographed martial arts that originated in Brazil. It combines martial arts with elements of dance, all while being accompanied by Afro-Brazilian music. The music is an integral part to the entire art form because it sets the tempo and style of game that is to be played.

The real question here is: how is there a capoeira group in metropolitan Mumbai? The leader of the group, Sucuri, was taught by a Brazilian man who moved to India and decided to teach slum children the art of capoeira. Sucuri became so inspired and motivated that he now teaches and inspires an entirely new generation of children, regardless of social caste.

Along with his work in various slums in Mumbai, he leads an all-inclusive capoeira group where he would teach not only martial arts, but also the music. He would bring his own Afro-Brazilian instruments and teach songs to play and sing along to while two other people were battling it out.

You can see some of the videos of Capoeria Mumbai on their facebook page HERE 

That’s all for now folks. I just wanted to set the scene of my life in India. Next, I will share my interview with Deepa Unnikrishnan, or Dee MC, a well-known female rapper in Mumbai.

GGP (Gamelan Girl Power) with Ayu and I Made Subandi…..and (gasp) more Indonesian snackies

One day, Balot invited me to go to a children’s gamelan rehearsal lead by his mentor, I Made Subandi. The rehearsal took place at Made’s house, where he had his own personal collection of gamelan instruments. I arrived around the same time as the children did for their rehearsal and watched while everyone shuffled in. Just like the typical American soccer mom, the Balinese parents would drop off their children, but instead of a minivan it would be a motorbike. Instead of a soccer jersey, they would be dressed up in their traditional Balinese wear, which is much more complicated than some exercise clothes. Every little boy is required to wear this outfit (pictured below) even when just practicing gamelan. It’s a sacred act, so you must be dressed correctly to show respect.

IMG_1072

It was time for rehearsal to begin. I sat in the front with Balot and observed how Made managed and taught the group of children. Balot would go to some of the students and play with them if they forgot a passage (remember, all gamelan in learned by ear), and Made would help keep beat or tell the group when they were moving onto the next session with number signs. When Made wasn’t instructing the kids (a couple of mere seconds here and there), he would ask me about my studies and what I want to get out of gamelan while simultaneously stuffing more and more Balinese snacks into my hands. “Try this! Now try this!” Made would say. He would eagerly wait to see my reaction after every snack. I tried a brand new fruit here called “salak”, or snake fruit, because the exterior looks like scales.

IMG_1073

Looks pretty cool, eh? Anyway, back to music.

All of the children ensembles I saw today were only boys. Traditionally, Balinese children start studying traditional Balinese art as early as age two. The boys play gamelan, and the girls dance to the gamelan. Girls are of course welcome to join the ensembles, but it is a rare sight to see a girl among the boys. I met one of the few female gamelan players who actually help teach the children’s gamelan class that I saw. Her name is Ayu, and she is 16. After rehearsal, Ayu, Balot, and I went upstairs to talk away from the noise of all the children. Balot told me that female gamelan players are still seen as taboo to the older generation. They are seen at the came caliber of the children ensembles and are not taken as seriously as the male adult ensembles. I wanted to interview both Ayu and Balot, but Ayu did not speak english, so Balot translated for me. Here is a picture below of Ayu:

IMG_1074

Ayu comes from a long line of musicians. Even though music has always been a huge focus in her house and her family, her father initially didn’t want her to do music. Ayu’s older brother also plays gamelan, and has been very supportive of Ayu’s similar passion. Her brother then told her father that he wouln’t continue to play gamelan if Ayu didn’t get to play in high school. After that little shock, the family then became completely supportive of Ayu joining Madu’s studio and the music high school in Bali.

Because of the negative stigma of being a female gamelan player, its difficult to get girls to be interested in playing. Unfortunately, Ayu didnt get as many opportunities to play as the average male gamelan player, but now being labeled as one of Made’s students, more and more people are wanting to see her play. She is seen as something rare among so many male players.

Just like Ayu, Balot’s parents didn’t agree with him being a musician, but more on the reason that it is not a suitable career to make money. Eventually his family finally came around to the idea because they trusted Made to mold and teach Balot. In Bali, if Made invites you to study with him, it is a huge deal and you should take the that opportunity. If Made saw something special in Balot, then his family has to trust that judgement and let Balot pursue music.

Made has an incredibly open mind when it comes to the battle of the sexes in music. He doesn’t see someone’s gender as a way to quantify their talent. He believes in the mind. The potential. There is more than just gamelan in the world. There is more to see. He is more interested in what is out there, while still respecting the Balinese tradition. Both Balot and Ayu have seen a significant difference in their playing and creativity after being taken on as a student of Made. They are taken more seriously and people look at them differently, with more respect for their craft. Because of Made, Balot has been inspired to become a composer and enroll in ISI, the arts institute in Bali. He has made Balot and Ayu really believe in themselves. Even though they both attend arts school, they feel that they learn the most here. Not only about music, but about the world and themselves. They have learned that music is more about how you respect one another.

Made teaches only a small percentage of technique, and the rest is learning from your emotions from the inside and learning how to pull it out of yourself. It is a process that is constantly progressing and growing. This process doesn’t see age. Balot, at the age of 29, has learned more about self-confidence from Ayu during their time here. He says you can always learn from the children, from their confidence. They see things more simply than adult. You do have to respect your elders in Balinese culture, but here, you also need to respect your youth. For Ayu, she has learned how to compose from Balot. From this, she has learned to use her music as a form of reflection and understanding of her inner self.

Just like Ayu, more and more women are being taken under the wings of gamelan teachers and given chances that were not initially there say, 20 years ago. Even though its still quite intimidating for the average girl to start gamelan, especially when the girls are initially put into dance as early as the age of 2, but women like Ayu show these aspiring women that it is possible to break through that barrier and learn. Many people are now asking Ayu to teach their children and want her to compete in multiple gamelan competitions around Bali. Opportunities for women are growing everyday.

I have learned that it is very Balinese to be competitive. Gamelan is an artistic war from one village against another. Sometimes, they even have people sneak over into the other village to hear what they are doing, and mimic it and make it better for the upcoming competition. The biggest lesson I think that Made has taught all of his students is that you need to play for yourself. Music is supposed to build you up, not break you down. He shows them that it is used for meditation, for positive growth, not only in your musical talent, but in your life. You can communicate how you feel through music.

What I learned from Ayu and Balot that day was absolutely priceless. As a classical musician, brought up in a strict ochrestral music style, college was a rude awakening. I lost the love of music early on in college and considered dropping it all together. I lost the fun in it. It did seem like a battle. I had to beat the person ahead of me. Something that was my therapy, my safe place, became this chore. Into my later years at Rice, I found more of a rhythm on how to turn out results and eventually get into the groove of enjoying the music I previously feared to play. But my self confidence really didn’t kick in until I graduated and went to Music Academy International before my Zeff year. That was the first time I was playing not to prove to anyone that I was worthy of being there. I was playing for myself. And I played so much better than I ever had.

Sitting there with Balot and Ayu really reinforced that mentality I recently discovered. As Balot said, its a process that will never stop forming and growing. My interview with Balot and Ayu was truly eye opening for me. Even on the other side of the world, people deal with the same problems and work through them the same way. When you enjoy the music you play, people around you will also enjoy it and feel the joy that you are radiating.

Thank you Balot and Ayu for an amazing day!

STORY TIME
-I legit fell in a hole at night on the way to visit my friend for dinner. Like Alice in Wonderland style. After falling and screaming and flinging my phone across the road, an Aussie man laughed because he thought I tripped, then I heard a “Oh shoot, shes like down”. Then his family came to help me and a nice Balinese boy came to personally wipe all the blood off my legs. Never have I thought that I had to use the excuse, “Sorry I’m late, I fell in a hole” ever in my life.
-Finding people’s houses in Bali is near impossible for me because 1) I was driving a little scooter everywhere and depending on google maps yelling into my ear, 2) there are streets that exist in real life, but Google doesn’t consider them to be real in maps, and lastly, 3) you have to watch out for herds of ducks that run through the rice paddies or dogs that decide to take naps in the middle of the road.
-I was mugged by a monkey at the Uluwatu Temple. I leaned up against a wall to attempt to take an artsy picture of another monkey and then I see a little monkey hand come across my face and take my glasses. Then he proceeded to eat my glasses and then a Balinese man came up to the monkey with a banana and threw it at the monkey and grabbed my glasses. Positive reinforcement. Spoiled little furry devils.

Real life Eat, Pray, Love

While in Bali, I stayed with a lovely Balinese family in a village just outside of the touristy streets of Ubud. I was the only non-Balinese in the entire village. My host, Wayan, was a wood carver, which has been the family profession for generations. I stayed in a very traditional Balinese compound with Wayan and his entire extended family. They were incredibly welcoming and invited me to religious ceremonies, taught me about Balinese Hinduism and how make offerings, and introduced me to an entirely new perspective on the relationship between music and spirituality.

Eat

Wayan and his wife would knock on my door promptly at 8 am everyday and serve me a traditional Balinese breakfast with Balinese coffee everyday. I usually had no idea what I was eating, but it would usually consisted of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, a fried egg, and my favorite, dadar gulung (pictured below).

IMG_0558

 

Dadar gulung is an Indonesian snack that directly translates to “pancake” or “omelette”. It’s a green-colored rolled pancake made of rice flour and stuffed with shaved coconut and palm sugar. The green color naturally comes from paste of the pandan leaves which is added to the rice flour. In modern times, a lot of the time, they use food coloring and make crazy bright orange and pink dadar gulung, but the traditional and natural color is green.

It was always easy to eat well when in the presence of Wayan’s family. While Wayan would carve wood and work on his new villas across the street, his wife would run the village “warung”, or restaurant. Each village would have a local warung and they would serve the exact same thing. I never minded because typical Balinese food consists of chicken satay, rice, and a fried egg on top with freshly squeezed juice of your choice for around 3USD.

Pray

The layout of a traditional Balinese compound, including the one where I lived, is focused on a strict ancient architectural guide with the goal of a house that is “in harmony” with the law of the cosmos of Balinese Hinduism. Spacial orientation is crucially considered in Balinese architecture. In Hinduism, each object in the universe has an ideal location; this must be correctly aligned at all times to achieve harmony in the universe and a perfect state of being. The two main cardinal directions in the Balinese Universe are Mount Agung, the mountain of the Gods, and the sea, the abode of the demons and spirits.

The compound is made up of multiple small buildings and are structured in terms of the human body. The family temple is the head, the guest pavilion (where I lived) are the arms, the central courtyard is the navel, the hearth is the sexual organs, and the kitchen is the feet. Traditionally, none of the small buildings in the compound have walls, except for the room where the head of the house slept, but more and more Balinese people have modernized their compounds to include walled bedrooms and bathrooms.

Below you can see an example of the compound layout and pictures of where I stayed.

IMG_05593f98d159-c24a-4e9f-be8c-686acc226dda

 

Love (Music)

I was able to be apart of Narwastu’s Gong Kebyar Gamelan Ensemble. Narwastu is an arts organization that serves as a community for artists who are interested in learning Balinese music, dance, and visual art. Founded by Jonathan and Tina Bailey in 2005, Narwastu began as a small group of people wanting to learn to play Balinese gamelan. 12 years later, it has grown into a large community of Balinese and expats alike and acts as a platform to express their art and passion. From spirituality, to advocacy for women’s rights, all the way to an art program administered at the Kerobokan Prison in Bali, the goal of Narwastu is to bring people together from all walks of life in order to create art. “Artists are empowered in the process to follow their artistic path and to, in turn, support their community as the interpreters and visionaries of the future” (taken from the Narwastu website at narwastu.org).

Three days a week, I would go to gamelan rehearsal with the other members of Narwastu. I Nyoman Darsane, a local Balinese painter, would let us use his art studio for gamelan practice and small concerts. While we would practice, he would peacefully sit outside and paint traditional Balinese scenes and periodically come in on rehearsal and play with us.The entire 25 piece gamelan ensemble would always be set up outside on the main outdoor pavilion. When it would rain (which it rains a lot in Bali), you would have to pull down bamboo shades to protect the instruments from the rain. It was always surreal to play spiritual Balinese music with locals while it would rain.

Gamelan is an incredibly sacred instrument used for many religious and cultural purposes. Just like the different styles of songs you sing in church, there are multiple styles of gamelan ensembles depending on the function. There are specific ensembles for weddings, funerals, and other religious ceremonies. Gong Kebyar (the type of ensemble I played in) is made up of 25 instruments and is played in secular and sacred settings, typically accompanying the traditional dances of Bali. The musical scale is made up of a 5-tone system (I will go into more detail about this in a later post). Kebyar means “the process of flowering”, which refers to the explosive changes in tempo and dynamics, characteristic of this style.

I’ll go more into detail about my classes and how you are even supposed to make music with these little hammers and metal bars, so tune in next time and learn more about the amazing world of GAMELAN

Terima Kasih! (Thank you in Bahasa)

 

Learning about drumming and Korean culture with Halmeoni

November 2016

During my month in Seoul, South Korea, I was quite lucky to be hosted by my friend, JiHeon Ahn, and his family. I experienced local Korean lifestyle, from house slippers to highly sophisticated toilet technology! Even though I was only in Korea a few weeks, I was able to take music classes, attend various traditional Korean and western classical concerts, and learn a lot about Korean culture.
I became especially close to JiHeon’s grandmother, whom I eventually called 할머니 (pronounced Halmeoni), which means “Grandma” in Korean. She would take me to her traditional drumming and music classes at the community center and various concerts. Halmeoni constantly fed me her delicious home-cooked Korean food. Making sure I was well fed and happy, Halmeoni left sandwiches and fruit on my doorstep most mornings. She was the first to introduce me to Pansori music and other traditional Korean folk music.

Pansori is a type of Korean folk music consisting of a singer and a buk drummer as accompaniment (pictured below). Frequently compared to an opera, Pansori is much like a one-man-show where the singer performs an entire story consisting of various characters and narratives by using different voices and gestures. During this dramatic show, the drummer plays the buk, a no-tone drum literally translated as “drum”, and adds encouraging words as embellishment. (The words apparently were encouraging, although I never understood a word of it. But yes, I felt uplifted.) The buk drummer must have the ability to select and change rhythms any second, depending on the singer’s character at that moment. It is customary for the vocalist to be female, and the drummer, male. They are both seen as equals while in other folk music, either the singer leads or the drummer leads. There is an absolute balance of gender between the vocalist and the drummer

For such an old genre of folk music, Pansori reminded me of early 20th-century experimental songs like Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Charles Ive’s Charlie Rutlage. (For the non-classical music geeks out there, I recommend youtubing these songs if you want either nightmares or confusion.)Pansori is intensely expressive, almost like talk-singing, improvised without a real key or melody. It is all entirely up to the vocalist. The drummer chills in the background and makes sure there is a consistent beat, providing critical structure and cohesion.

One night, Halmeoni took me to a Pansori concert where some of her close friends were opening at an art gallery. The small gallery was packed to the brim. Halmeoni did not take no for an answer, she squeezed us to the very front. While the concert was performed, a man sat on the ground with rice paper and began to paint what I presumed were key words and pictures relating to the story being sung. This added an entirely new dimension to the music, making it multi-dimensional performance art. (Check out a portion of the concert (but here, the singer is playing a wooden flute) in a video below) I was so interested in the concert that Halmeoni took me to her Pansori drum class the next day.

​​
The next day:

Halmeoni and I entered a classroom in the local community center. There were four other students; I was the youngest by fifty years. Before any music actually occurred, we enjoyed various Korean snacks and drinks brought by the students. One woman brought homemade kimchi, Halmeoni and I brought sweet bread, one man brought Korean rice wine and warm tea.

Side note: Korean rice wine is strong stuff! I felt pressured more when drinking with these older Koreans than I ever did during four years of college parties. If my cup was still filled, they commented on how I needed to finish it. When I finally emptied it, they instantly refilled my cup. I propose American orchestras should adopt this pre-rehearsal snack and drink time, maybe even employ adorable Korean grannies to make sure all are fat and happy before rehearsal.

I learned various traditional songs during rehearsal, and I even kept up with the class! Of course, all the students knew the songs so well, they sang as they drummed, while I was concentrating solely on keeping my hands in the right area of the drum. Here is a video of my teacher, 황정원 (Jung Won Hwang), playing and singing one of the Pansori songs we were learning. Jung Won Hwang is certified by the government of South Korea for preserving and keeping Pansori music alive and accurate to tradition.

​​​​

Like what you see? There’s more videos on class in the “videos” tab!

With the rise of K-pop and the obsession with Western classical music, Pansori and other Korean folklore music is losing popularity. It mostly is enjoyed by the older generation. Children are taught how to play traditional Korean music in school, but my generation’s interest in this genre is quickly declining. Because of this, the government has found it necessary to appoint certain artists and musicians to preserve traditional Korean art and stimulate interest among younger generations of musicians. Pansori music is now seen as more of a cultural attraction, rather than a part of daily life.

At one point, I was able to to experience the general public playing and enjoying traditional Korean music; however, it was not in a concert or class. It was during one of the weekly protests in Seoul’s main square.

Hundreds of thousands of people came out every Saturday in November and December, 2016, to protest peacefully against President Park Geun-hye, during accusations that she and close friends had extorted millions of dollars from the Korean government and businesses for personal gain. It was amazing how absolutely huge the protests were in Korea; whereas internationally, the civil unrest was barely reported. Many of my friends and family had no idea this was happening in Seoul, other than knowledge of corruption charges against President Park. I think there were a few reports about it on BBC News, but the huge protests were not mentioned prominently elsewhere.

Each Saturday, the entire main business district of Seoul was shut down, in order to keep the protesters in one consolidated area. Police forces used giant buses to contain the crowds, and to block people from watching or joining the protests. It was nearly impossible to not go through the crowds during the protests each Saturday, because my normal bus stop was closed down due to road closures. Therefore on Saturdays, I had to walk through the ENTIRE protest to get to the next functioning bus stop. It was quite an experience, making my way through the masses of people.

Along the way, I discovered the protests were like a giant music festival. A famous Korean singer came to give a benefit concert after a few politicians spoke about the issues at hand. And then I heard of all things…. people playing the buk and other traditional percussion instruments! I decided to stick around and watch what they were playing. I was amazed to see first-hand when political chaos was happening, the people held tightly to traditional culture. It unified all Koreans. This was their culture, their music, their country. You can see pictures from the protest on the “South Korea” tab under “pictures”.

If you are interested on how the Korean public protested every week for months to impeach their president (which eventually happened), read Wikipedia’s summary here. It was an amazing feat. I feel we, as Americans, can learn much from the Koreans and how they peacefully persisted for political justice.

That’s all for now, friends. Next blog is about my adventures seeing the famous Korean act, DRUMCATS!

FUN FACTS TIME:

-You get cute little slippers when sitting at certain restaurants/cafes (i would have to wear the man size because Korean women have fairy feet)

-“She has a flower in her hair” is an old idiom for “that girl is craaaazy”

-ANIMAL CAFÉS EVERYWHERE! I went to a cat cafe and a raccoon cafe. Here’s a video for proof

Motos, Music, and the Monkey

October 2016

After the first couple of weeks in Rwanda, I stayed in the capital, Kigali, with Adam, a friend of a friend. By the end of my stay, we became the best of friends. I cooked a lot of Mexican and Italian food for us; Adam supplied quality olive oil, wine, and coffee!
There were a lot of younger expats who lived and worked in Kigali, in development or for non-profit organizations. I quickly found a group of great people to hang out with. The expat population was so small, I could meet just about everyone within a night out, whether Monday trivia night, Wednesday karaoke at Car Wash, or happy hour at Inema.

Motos

These friends introduced me to the world of motos, the practical way to navigate my way around Rwanda. Having a car was quite a luxury, beyond the means of most people. All the cars were imported with high costs, not to mention difficulties finding expensive imported parts for repairs. Because of this, even taxis were pricy in Kigali and they were practically nonexistent outside the capital.

The most common (and affordable) alternative was to hire a motorcycle, or “moto”. Just like catching a cab, I stood on the side of a road to hail a passing moto driver by waving or whistling. The driver stopped to hand me a flimsy, and sometimes broken, helmet while I explained where I wanted to go. Most of the drivers were pleasant, yet everyone was expected to bargain.

I learned that the key was to know how much it cost to get to each destination, to name my price before the driver announced a fee. If the driver’s fare seemed excessive, I gave a confused look and said, “Urahenda!” (pronounced Oo-Rah-Hen-Dah), which meant, “Too expensive!”. If a moto driver didn’t like what I was willing to pay, I was coached by my friends to walk away. It usually worked, the moto driver would follow me and agree that my offered price was fine.

After bargaining yet before hopping on a moto, I recommend saying a little prayer that you don’t die on the way. During my entire time in Rwanda, I saw about half a dozen moto accidents. One of my friends even had to take an injured moto driver to the hospital. But hey, it’s all for the real local Rwandan experience, right?

Music

The Kigali Music School focused not only on musical technique, but also on song composition. During each session, Yves and Chris split the music leaders into groups of four people, based on their instrument: voice, drums, piano, and guitar. The groups were given thirty minutes to collaborate cohesively on a task: Compose a song. Melody, harmonies and chord structures, rhythms, lyrics. Everything!

But that wasn’t all they had to do. Yves gave each group a prompt to write about, perhaps about children, the future of Rwanda, or anything uplifting and inspirational. The community music leaders typically taught impoverished children, children battling HIV/AIDS, and young adults coping with having survived childhoods during the 1994 genocide. These students struggled with overwhelming adversity in their daily existence. The music programs were intentionally structured to offer hope and vision beyond misery.

Chris, Yves, and I stepped outside while the groups went to work, to build confidence in their creative energies and to have greater autonomy. After half an hour, we reconvened into the main room of the school, huddled together tightly to watch group members perform their songs. After each group performed, Chris and Yves led everyone in open discussion. This offered additional experiential learning activities, how to provide and accept constructive criticism, how to learn and adapt from ideas generated through the acts of composition, performance, and observation.

Students quickly learned ways to make their songs more interesting, sometimes adding vocal harmony, changing introductory measures, spicing up percussive rhythms, or altering chord patterns. The music school was a safe space where everyone was encouraged to grow comfortable having and sharing one’s opinions. You could risk putting yourself and your ideas out in the open, rewarded when others celebrated your creation.

This was not the case at first when the Kigali Music School was founded. The initial groups of music leaders were reluctant to share their internal feelings and musical creations. They were quiet and reserved. Horrors of the genocide savagely pitted neighbor against neighbor. Rwandans had, and still have, difficulty trusting others, whether locals or those from outside. Yet paradoxically, after having gained their trust, Rwandans were among the most friendly, compassionate people I have ever met.

So understandably, Rwandans have become reserved, cautious as people. It hasn’t been normal for children and young adults to experience encouragement expressing themselves openly, to be in nurturing environments in which creative ideas and opinions are respected, tolerated, celebrated. Through the work of the music school, I observed students and teachers enjoying classes filled with laughter, storytelling, and genuine friendship. They were passionate, energetic, and bursting with creative expression. Yves and Chris were integral to this transformation.

Yves is the lead singer and composer of a quite well known band in Rwanda called Group Trezzor. Check out Group Trezzor and its music videos on here. Yves has been a regular at recording studios, dedicated to pumping out song after song. He motivated the entire group of youth leaders compose a song together and record it. I was there when they were still coming up with ideas for the next song, but here is one of their previous songs they recorded!

(Sorry, it’s all in Kinyarwandan, but you don’t need to know the language to be deeply inspired by this amazing group of young musicians!)

The Monkey

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the monkey. I did most of my work at a cafe near my house. It was a peaceful place full of lush greenery, with a resident monkey. Kigali didn’t have much wildlife in the city, although there were giant hawks that gathered to eat fruit from an enormous avocado tree in the garden, and feral street cats that ate our pet rabbits. So the single monkey was my one reliable, good animal friend. He chilled out in the trees nearby, watching me while I sipped my coffee.

 

IMG_0369.JPG

Rwinkwavu and Ingomas

October 2016

As I mentioned in my previous post, Musicians without Borders (MWB) works with local musicians to “teach singing, songwriting, and music therapy, making use of Rwandan traditional culture to address the trauma of the genocide and conflict” (from the MWB website). Overall, the goal is to create sustainable music programs that can be replicated as a model for other communities in Rwanda and neighboring countries. This is how I met Yves, a local Rwandan musician who works alongside MWB as a teacher and liaison between the organization and the Rwandan population.  Continue reading Rwinkwavu and Ingomas

Sticking it to the (wo)man:the Blackroots Marimbas Ensemble

September 2016

I met the Blackroots Marimbas through one of my UCT friends, Sky. If you remember, I posted an amazing video of her playing mbira in one of my past blog posts. Sky’s love for African music started when she used to play marimba in church. She then started playing with one of Cape Town’s largest bands for a while, but she thought that there had to be more than just playing for someone else. She wanted to play for herself. Continue reading Sticking it to the (wo)man:the Blackroots Marimbas Ensemble

Conscious Rhythm with Nidhi

September 2016

I didn’t really come to South Africa with any plan about who I was going to study. I had one vague idea of an ensemble, but they never answered my five emails over the past year. Looking back on it, it was a blessing in disguise to basically be dropped off in an unknown place, and learn how to meet people and build relationships out of thin air. I wrote some emails to UCT, asked a couple of bars where the live music scene is and attended some shows, and checked Facebook events near me. That’s how I met Nidhi. Continue reading Conscious Rhythm with Nidhi