White sandy beaches. Tall swaying palm trees. Spicy and flavorful cuisine.
These buzz words are synonymous with Mombasa County and give it its hum and rhythm.
A few weeks ago, though, the county was host of a new kind of rhythm: orchestral music.
Mikindani Primary School, a musical giant in the county, hosted Ghetto Classics members for a masterclass where they met eager students ready to learn how to play the orchestra musical instruments.
Ghetto Classics is a community-based program that aims to transform the lives of children and young adults across socioeconomic levels using music education to provide them with opportunities to go beyond and to better themselves and their communities.
Susan Nyaga, a teacher of music at the school, says the COVID-19 pandemic affected the school calendar and led to the cancellation of the usual school music competition.
“In 2019, the students performed at the national levels in Kisumu including taarab in the Big Four Agenda category where we were position three. Through Ghetto Classics, the students now have an opportunity to expand their knowledge in music and learn something new,” she says.
These are timely skills as the school prepares for this year’s music festival competitions.
“We are ready. We have two entries in taarab and we are longing to take up the category of other instruments, that is orchestra. We have two pianists, trumpets, flutes, violins and clarinets, so we are well prepared,” the teacher says.
Susan says the collaboration with Ghetto Classics has also afforded the teachers an opportunity to get trained and to build their capacity to better teach music.
“Our teachers now have more knowledge they can pass down to the students, but most importantly, we can now access instruments. Being a public school, we can’t afford to purchase instruments, but right now our children can access the instruments, they can practice and perform thanks to the teachers who have been attached to the school by Ghetto Classics,” she says.
Charity Faith, a percussionist and a Ghetto Classics graduate, has always been eager to teach other students how to play musical instruments. The masterclass at Mikindani Primary fulfilled this desire.
“When I started learning the crotchet, I couldn’t wait to teach my friends and as I progressed I would carry my music books and show my friends at school. Of course, they didn’t understand much or my excitement. But here now am happy because I have seen the students are willing to learn and am so happy to teach them,” says Charity who through Ghetto Classics has received a scholarship to study percussion.
The trip to the coast was unique for another Ghetto Classics graduate, Cyndicate Kabei. Apart from seeing the sea for the first time, she was excited to pass down the knowledge and meet new friends here.
“I was so happy to see the students enjoying the music during the Masterclass. I also learnt a lot from them. There are certain things I didn’t know,” she says.
So far, the Ghetto Classics link-up program, which started in 2016, has since 2019 been offered in five schools in Mombasa County – Mikindani Primary, Likoni Primary, Ronald Ngala Primary, Khadija Primary, and Aga Khan Academy. Of the five, Mikindani Primary school is the only school with an orchestra and a Ghetto Classics program.
For the head tutor, Ghetto Classics Mombasa, Peter Kariuki, it has been a learning experience for the team as they continue reaching out to more schools. Currently, there are about 30 members of the Ghetto Classics Mombasa chapter. However, despite their challenges, the student’s eagerness to learn orchestra motivates them every day.
“We are introducing something very foreign not only to the school but also to the community. It will take time before everyone understands this type of music, but children here are willing to learn. They are always on time for classes,” Peter says.
The growth of music in the Mikindani Primary School is in part due to the goodwill by the school leadership, explains Samuel Njoroge Kabiru, the chairman of the school’s board.
He says since the program started, students have been able to discover themselves, they are confident, and more have expressed interest to learn how to play orchestral music.
According to Eric Ochieng, Musical Director, Ghetto Classics Korogocho, the community in Mombasa has been gradually adopting the idea and the concept of orchestral music with more schools, including Aga Khan Academy, recently collaborating with the team to learn orchestral music.
“It has been a journey, trying to introduce something new, but we are encouraged by how schools are adopting this type of music and helping us spread this music to this region,” Eric says.