Berklee Trio Brings Music to Zambia
Growing up in Zambia, Eleftherios Mukuka had limited exposure to music, but still managed to make some early progress, from recorder and keyboard lessons in primary school to self-taught rapping beginning at the age of 10. He managed to build a home studio from gear sent by relatives and friends abroad, and produced his first rap album at age 15. Two years later, a second record earned local airplay and a national television performance just in time for Mukuka to switch gears and focus on contemporary classical (he’d begun studying classical piano at age 15, alongside his rap pursuits) and electronic dance music.
Now about to enter his fourth semester at Berklee, where he’s studying film scoring and electronic production and design, Mukuka is spending a stretch of time this summer in his native Zambia to help ensure aspiring musicians there have more access to music than he did growing up. He was recently joined by classmates Lu Gari and Layth Sidiq; together the trio is spearheading a charity project, More Music More Love, to support and promote music education in Zambia as well as help create opportunities for disadvantaged Zambian children to access musical training.
Mukuka shared the details of the project and his musical journey over email exchanges from Zambia.
The following is a condensed and edited version of those conversations.
What brought you to Berklee?
I was born to a Greek mother and Zambian father 20 years ago in Lusaka. From a little boy I have been enthralled by my two diverse cultures and have embarked on a journey to explore them and carry them in me. This is true especially for the traditional music of both my countries. Growing up in Zambia I had limited exposure to music performances, recorded music, and music education. Music events were extremely rare and still are. I heard about Berklee from a Greek musician who encouraged me to apply. I therefore did as much research as I could and absolutely fell in love with the place. I felt then, and still feel now, that the Berklee College of Music is the only place in the world for me right now!
Tell me a bit about your musical beginnings—how did you get introduced to music and what instrument did you first learn?
I do not come from a musical family. However, my mother made sure that my two sisters and I learned to play music. I began learning the recorder in primary school and then moved on to the keyboard for a year or two. When I turned 10, I stopped taking music lessons and started rapping. I soon became very interested in learning how to self-produce. I knew that I had to set up a home studio but at the time I didn't know how and no gear was available in Zambia. I therefore patiently collected, piece by piece, through relatives and friends abroad. It took took me four years to put everything together and it wasn't anything fancy. When I was 15, I produced my first rap album in my home studio and also began studying classical piano. At 17, I had self-produced an album that gained airplay on several local radio stations, earned me an interview and performance on national television, and was selling in stores. That became my last rap work as I moved onto contemporary classical music and electronic dance music. In the last year, I have had several releases on independent record labels in Sweden, New York City, Los Angeles, and Israel.
What/who has influenced your musical journey at Berklee and how?
At Berklee I am influenced and inspired by so many of my friends and professors. Every day is full of breathtaking musical experiences and exposure to musical culture from all corners of the earth. I admire the obsession with music that is so evident within the Berklee community. In particular, I have been very grateful to study with John Stein, maestro Simon Shaheen, Jimmy Kachulis, and Steve Hunt.
Tell me about your trip to Zambia.
More Music More Love is a charity project that was initiated in spring 2013 by three undergraduate Berklee students: Lu Gari, Layth Sidiq, and myself. The goal of our project is to support and promote music education in Zambia as well as to help create opportunities for disadvantaged Zambian children to access musical training. We fundraised in Boston and Mexico to donate the following musical instruments and accessories to the National Arts Council of Zambia to be used by the Lusaka Youth Orchestra (LYO): two clarinets, one violin, three flutes, four guitars, 10 tuners, guitar strings, 100-plus saxophone reeds, and other musical accessories.
We are very grateful to Guitar Center's Massachusetts Avenue branch, Hermes Music Mexico, my mentor Tony Susen (of the Berklee Community Mentor Program), and Global Youth Groove for making this donation possible. In mid-August we will be presenting the donation to the Lusaka Youth Orchestra.
My team and I will also be volunteer teachers at the annual American International School of Lusaka Music Camp. In addition, we will give workshops at the two Lubuto libraries in Lusaka. The Lubuto libraries are special libraries that serve underprivileged children and teenagers through a variety of mentoring, literacy, and artistic programs.
How do you think your Zambia trip will influence and inform your Berklee experience?
I feel very grateful for all the opportunities and resources I have at Berklee. It makes me realize how lucky we Berklee students are, when I look at the music education system here in Zambia. You can’t buy many instruments here, teachers are in short supply, conservatories don't really exist yet, and there are no concert halls. Music education in general is not really promoted and yet there is an abundance of talent here in Zambia. As the first Zambian student at Berklee, I feel it is my duty to help the music community in Zambia grow.