Students Travel to Kenya for Cultural Exchange

Margot Edwards
June 21, 2011
Sam Lutomia
student Wambura Mitaru

While some of their peers are lounging at the beach this summer, a group of Berklee College of Music students and alumni, and Newton North and Needham High School students, are using the break as an educational opportunity. The students will participate in a cultural exchange program in Kenya from June 24 to July 15 through local organization Global Youth Groove (GYG), whose mission is to transform the lives of youth through music. They will teach and perform; study Swahili; learn about traditional Kenyan music, instruments, and dance; and be immersed in Kenyan culture. The program is spearheaded by Berklee staff member Sam Lutomia, cofounder of GYG and cofounder of Acacia in Kenya, a fundraising effort that provides support for girls' education­­.

The GYG group will spend two weeks in Kakamega, Western Kenya, teaching music and giving workshops at the Matende Secondary School, founded by Lutomia's father Francis. They plan to bring a full ensemble setup—including donated guitars, bass, violin, alto saxophone, clarinets, drums, and keyboards—on which the students will teach and perform. The students will also give presentations in their fields of expertise. Berklee film scoring major Dave Chapman's demonstration of music production software using desktop gear will give people without access to recording studios the tools to self-produce on computers. 

To make technology more accessible, the group will bring eight MacBook Pros, donated by the college's IT department, loaded with GarageBand and ProTools. At the end of the trip, the laptops and instruments will be given to a community center in Kakamega, allowing talented local youth to continue developing their skills. Lutomia explains, "Unfortunately, we can't leave the laptops at Matende School because of security. The school is still struggling to buy windows and doors for its classrooms, which is the case for most public schools in Kenya."

They also plan to visit other schools and orphanages in the area and will perform at the Kenya Schools and Colleges National Music Festival in Kakamega, June 29–July 2, an annual school music competition.

GYG includes both students from Kenya returning home for the trip, and students from the United States making their first trip to Africa. "I am really excited because students from Berklee and local high schools get to come to my country and have a little taste of my culture," says Nairobi native Wambura Mitaru, who studies at Berklee on a full Africa Scholarship. "It allows me to share a part of my life that is close to me: my home. I hope to learn from both worlds and see musicians interacting and having a great time speaking the universal language of music."

The group will also spend time in Nairobi meeting with Berklee alumni and other musicians, giving workshops, and performing in concert. After their return, the students will give a public presentation in Boston where they will perform, speak about their experiences, and show a documentary produced from the trip.

Global Youth Groove Members

Berklee students, alumni, and staff

Sam Lutomia of Framingham, MA, trip leader and staff member, Public Safety

Dave Chapman of Scotch Plains, NJ, student guitarist

Aaron Colverson of Gainesville, FL, alumnus violinist, project coordinator

Fifi Mbabazi of Kampala, Uganda, student vocalist

Wambura Mitaru of Nairobi, Kenya, student vocalist

Annette Oduor of Nairobi, Kenya, student pianist

Jason Sibi Okumu of Nairobi, Kenya, student vocalist

Sagit Zilberman of Modi'in, Israel, alumna saxophonist

Newton North and Needham High School students

Ali Campbell of Needham, MA, vocalist

Max Gordon of Newton, MA, guitarist

Marina Miller of Auburndale, MA, flutist

Jake Rosenberg of Newton, MA, drummer and keyboardist