Berklee College to Audition and Interview African Musicians
Kenyan singer Eric Wainaina poses after being appointed as a Messenger of Non-Violence on June 26, 2008 and presented with an Escopetarra, the art-guitar which symbolizes the change from violent behavior and actions into peaceful and constructive ones. (Photo: Simon Maina / AFP-Getty Images)
Berklee College of Music, the world's leading institution for the study of contemporary music, will be holding audition and interview (A&I) events in Kenya as part of its Africa Scholars Program, offering talented musicians the chance to be awarded scholarships to attend the college. The college inaugurated the Africa Scholars Program with A&I events in Accra, Ghana, and Durban, South Africa in the summer of 2008. Those resulted in $1.4 million in scholarships being awarded to 26 musicians, including a four-year scholarship covering full tuition and room and board.
The auditions, open to citizens of any African nation, will be conducted in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 2, 3, and 4, at the Brookhouse School. For more information or to apply, visit www.berklee.edu/scholarships/africa.
Eric Wainaina, artistic director at the Brookhouse School and a Berklee alumnus, is hosting Berklee's visit and plans several events to give area musicians the opportunity to learn from faculty and alumni. Auditioning musicians and area school groups are being invited to clinics and master classes on June 5 at the Brookhouse School. Said Ron Savage, chair of the Ensemble Department, who is heading the auditions, "These events offer a stronger connection to the host institution and lets us introduce students to the Berklee arena. They also allow us to learn more about them, which is very important. We hope to interact with Kenyan musicians in a meaningful exchange."
A roundtable discussion with Berklee faculty and local educators about music education is also planned. The Brookhouse School appointed Wainaina last year to start a performance academy and he's hoping to exchange ideas with other educators about curriculum and the challenges facing schools in Kenya and other parts of East Africa.
"Schools in Kenya run the gamut from high quality, to schools in the slums that have music programs but can't afford to put windows in the school building," said Wainaina. "I'd like to discuss how different schools deal with their economic circumstances and what some of the solutions can be."
Club Afrique in Westlands, Nairobi, will also host a Berklee night during Wainaina's weekly gig on Thursday, June 4, at 8:00 p.m. Alumni and invited guests will perform along with Wainaina and the Mapinduzi Band. The show is open to the public.
The Africa Scholars Program, founded by Berklee president Roger Brown and his wife Linda Mason, is designed to create opportunities for gifted African musicians who lack the financial means to study at Berklee. Brown spent a year teaching in Kakamega, Kenya, and attributes much of his success to lessons he learned from this experience. The program is also intended to enhance Berklee's presence in Africa and increase awareness of Berklee among African musicians. In an effort to make this program open to as many musicians as possible, Berklee brought together an Advisory Board of world-renowned artists that includes several alumni to help identify candidates for the auditions.
While the 2008 auditions in Ghana and South Africa were very successful, the college opted for a change of venue this year to give even more musicians a chance to attend. Said Wainaina, "If you're in East Africa, and you need to travel to Accra to audition, it's as expensive as coming to Boston. Having auditions in different parts of Africa is necessary. It was going to happen last year, but when the post-election crisis happened, it wasn't a good time to come. Now that things have calmed down, the timing is right."
Berklee will be awarding another four-year, full tuition scholarship this year. African candidates who audition at A&I events in other cities will also be considered for this award. At the same time, musicians who audition in Kenya will be considered for a host of other scholarships that Berklee awards annually as part of its World Scholarship Tour, where the college visits more than 40 cities around the world seeking musicians.
Savage, who led the team that visited Africa last year, will be conducting the auditions with George Russell Jr., professor of harmony. "I expect that in Kenya we'll see the same level of exceeding high talent [as in Accra]," said Savage. "Talented and highly motivated students who in many cases will be lacking in formal training but will have compensated with their fierce determination and work ethic."
Musicians come to Berklee from every corner of the earth, making the college uniquely international. While over 20 percent of the college's students are from outside the U.S. — among the largest percentages of all U.S. colleges and universities — and represent more than 70 countries, the Africa Scholars Program is part of a larger effort to increase the number of students from under-represented areas of the world, including Africa, China, India, and Cuba, fostering a significant cultural exchange.
Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music. For over 60 years, the college has evolved constantly to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business. With over a dozen performance and nonperformance majors, a diverse and talented student body representing over 70 countries, and a music industry "who's who" of alumni, Berklee is the world's premier learning lab for the music of today — and tomorrow.