Letter From Linda Mason

A Letter From Linda Mason

We Are All Connected: Berklee College of Music Reaches Out to the Women of Darfur


  Linda Mason

We sat in a straw hut in the depths of a displacement camp in Darfur. We were together with many of the women whom we had gotten to know over the last few weeks. They had shared with us their stories of the attacks on their villages. Many of their husbands had been killed. Many of these women had been raped and beaten. They were now crowded together in squalid camps with no means of livelihood, with their villages and former way of life completely destroyed, with seemingly no hope for their future.

These women are living through one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time; many have called it genocide. Through this war in Darfur, over 2 million people have been displaced, over 300,000 have been killed, and countless more have been brutally raped and beaten.

On this last day in the camps, I wanted to share the songs written for the Darfur people by Berklee songwriters. I played two of these songs; my interpreter translated the lyrics as they were sung. Throughout the songs, women wept, trilled, and ululated.

When the songs were over, one woman expressed what the others were feeling: "When we see you Westerners coming, we feel so ashamed. We are dirty and poor. We have no shoes; our clothes are ripped. But when we hear you singing, you have captured our emotions to the utmost. We no longer feel ashamed but feel you are our sisters."

They then jumped to their feet to give us a musical gift. They sang and danced, and we joined them. I recorded them as they sang, and their music is part of this CD. We all felt touched by the musical gifts passed between us. Music has a power and connection that transcends our vast differences.

This Berklee CD project is the result of countless passionate songwriters, musicians, producers, engineers, and staff at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. The project began in the fall of 2004 as I prepared to return to the Sudan on behalf of the humanitarian agency Mercy Corps. My husband, Roger Brown, now the president of Berklee, and I had mounted a countrywide emergency relief program in the Sudan during the African famine of the mid-1980s. During that crisis, musicians from the United States and England had raised millions of dollars through their song "We Are the World" produced by Berklee alumnus Quincy Jones. Harry Belafonte had traveled to our refugee camps in Eastern Sudan to present us with desperately needed funds.

In the fall of 2004, I was planning a return to the Sudan, leading a delegation of women from Boston to learn about violence toward women as part of the war. The humanitarian agency Mercy Corps hosted our visit. They had programs throughout six displacement camps helping women and children to recuperate from the traumas of the war and to create new means of livelihood.

When the Women's Network at Berklee heard of this trip, they were inspired to get the college involved. Jack Perricone, chair of the Songwriting Department, launched a songwriting competition for Darfur, and the seeds of this CD were planted. The project has grown and been embraced by much of the Berklee community. Individuals were inspired to use their great talents for this humanitarian cause. Over 40 songs were written by students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Seventeen of these songs were selected for this CD. The CD committee worked tirelessly to keep this project moving.

All proceeds from this CD will go to efforts to end this war in Darfur and to benefit women and children affected by this war. We hope that through this music you will be inspired to use your voice on behalf of Darfur and humanitarian causes throughout the world.

Linda Mason