Call to Listen

Call to Listen

Members of the Berklee community perform music inspired by the crisis in Darfur.

Mika Young leads a group in a performance of "Deep in My Soul."
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

The Berklee community gathered in mid-March to call attention to the crisis in Darfur and to reveal some of the ways that people at the college are taking action to aid the region. A Call to Listen: Songs of Darfur, at the David Friend Recital Hall, served as both an update on the situation in Sudan and a celebration of the production of a Berklee-created CD whose profits will directly benefit those hardest hit by the genocide, the women and children of Darfur.

The CD—the end result of a request that Berklee president Roger Brown sent out in early 2005—is slated to be released in fall 2006, with proceeds going to Mercy Corps' Darfur Fund. It consists of 18 original songs by Berklee students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Its creation was "a true college-wide collaboration," said Shannon Kim, cochair of the Womens Music Network CD Subcommittee. After the songs were chosen by the Womens Music Network, a wide range of Berklee faculty helped in producing, mixing, and recording them. Faculty from the Music Production and Engineering Department even "brought these songs into their classrooms, and students . . . leant their expertise to the production process," Kim said.

Four of the songs were performed at the event by a faculty and student band: "Breath," written by alumna Carole Rowley; "Hope for the Stars," by student Juliet Lloyd; "Love Myself Instead," by alumni/staff members Abria Smith and Jesse Hayes and alumna Arielle Hayes; and "Deep in My Soul," by alumna/staff member Mika Young and alumnus Michael Valentine. The songs bookended a performance piece by Our Place Theatre Project and a talk by Linda Mason, wife of President Brown.

"In the '80s . . . Quincy Jones, an alumnus of Berklee, and 50 of the most well-known musicians of the time recorded the song ‘We Are the World' and raised billions of dollars for African relief," said Mason. "The Berklee community is continuing this tradition of musicians playing an important role in relief efforts."

Shannon Kim is one of several volunteers helping produce the CD.  
Photo by Phil Farnsworth    

Mason recently made a trip with Mercy Corps to Darfur to bear witness to the devastation afflicting that region.

What did she find? Since her last visit, just one year ago, "the situation has deteriorated rapidly and significantly," Mason reported. "The scene is one of violence and lawlessness throughout Darfur. The government of Sudan will not enforce peace since the government of Sudan is the major perpetrator of violence now. And the African Union, despite its valiant efforts, is not up to the task."

Relief agencies have been attacked and some have pulled out of the region in response. However, Mercy Corps continues their efforts. One very effective program that Mason learned of was teaching women in the refugee camps how to make simple, fuel-efficient stoves out of clay and mud.

Such stoves lessen the need for firewood by 80 percent, thus reducing the amount of time the women must spend collecting it outside the protection of the camps. This simple act of sharing knowledge—without the need for outside materials—has an incredible impact on their lives, protecting them from the very real possibility of rape by "armed marauders and janjaweed" who control the area outside the camps, said Mason.

"Each woman who was trained by Mercy Corps to make this stove committed to going back to her hut and training ten more women," Mason said. "So one woman would train ten. Ten would train a hundred. A hundred would train a thousand. . . . The beauty of it to me was this idea of the multiplicity of one. I accompanied a military patrol to collect firewood, and all of the women on the patrol had fuel-efficient stoves, just one year after the start of this program."

Mason called on those in attendance to emulate these women, to share the information gained from her with others, and to encourage them to share it in turn.

"For each of you who are here today, you can help spread the word," said Mason, who collected field recordings of Darfur women during one of her trips. Several tracks on the CD will feature the chanting and trilling of these women. "Get everyone you know to buy this CD, and raise the visibility of Darfur."

Pre-stamped postcards were handed out at the door with a message to President Bush encouraging him to support a U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur. As the title of the event shows, her request was not just a call to listen, but a call to very concrete action.

Brenda Pike is content editor in Berklee's Office of Communications.