Berklee Today

Berklee's Africana Studies Begin

This fall, Berklee officially launched its new Africana studies initiative, which includes courses on music culture, concert and lecture programming, and faculty curriculum development. Berklee's approach to this area of study is unique; the focus includes interdisciplinary interaction between faculty and students and year-round concert and lecture programming that will be coordinated with courses on the roots of black music culture.

To inaugurate these combined efforts, internationally renowned artists Sweet Honey in the Rock and celebrated scholar Dr. Cornel West will join forces for a special presentation titled "Black Music Matters" at the Berklee Performance Center on February 1, 2007. The event marks the first collaboration between the group and West, who hope to bring attention to the critical dimensions of the study of music and culture. The Berklee Gospel Choir will join Sweet Honey in the Rock for the concert finale. Special thanks go to the Diversity and Academic Affairs offices for their sponsorship of this event.

Over the past year, I've fielded questions about what constitutes Africana studies and how the curriculum will benefit Berklee students. Taught by various faculty members, Berklee's Africana studies program is a collection of courses and ensembles that explore the study of black music practice, history, and meaning. The program encompasses several musical genres, including traditional West African music, spirituals, ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, r&b, reggae, rock 'n' roll, soul, social-protest music, and contemporary urban-music traditions such as hip-hop.

This fall we began offering three foundation music and liberal arts courses: "Africana Studies: The Sociology of Black Music in American Culture," "The Theology of American Popular Music," and "Black Biographies: Meanings, Music Lives." The courses help Berklee students fulfill their core liberal arts requirements. We add the new offerings to more than 35 history and ensemble courses already in the catalog, they include: "A History of Music of Black America," "Music of Africa and Latin and South America," "The Music and Life of Bob Marley," "West African Drum and Dance Ensemble," and more.

I find it odd that in the development of music history and jazz education, culture has gotten so little attention. But the cultural setting of any musical style is the lifeblood of the genre; all the essential ingredients that contribute to the making of that music exist in the expression of its culture. Berklee's Africana studies program will focus on the importance of musical culture by examining major figures and their artistry, celebratory ritual and social/critical aspects, and the communal and historic function of the music.

Berklee may be the only contemporary music school that offers curriculum, ensembles, educational and performance programming to support the full range of study of performance practices of Black music and culture. The cultural history of American musical forms is essential to contemporary training and practice. This important focus involves and impacts the entire Berklee teaching community. For information on Berklee's Africana studies program, contact