Thursday, April 29, 2010

Music in Kenya

My friends will say that I am a musical person. I remember being three and able to identify the Chili Peppers on the radio. Or seven and being entranced by "Thunder Road" and turning on the radio late at night, just so I could listen to the Eagles (I want Hotel California, Hell Freezes Over edition, at my wedding reception. Just sayin'). When I was old enough for music lessons, I was always playing something. From sixth grade to college, I sang in my school chorus, church choirs, and, for my last two years of high school, I took voice lessons. In addition, I'm always listening to something and, when a song comes on the radio, I try and match rhythm with the correct time signature (is it 4/4 or 6/8?). My computer, cheekbones, wrists, and hips have all served as drums and metronomes and I can identify my favorite songs within the first bar.

Yet I never really allowed myself to become good at it. Every instrument I played, I never played longer than two years. At church, people always tell me I have such a beautiful voice and, when going to weddings and first communions at other parishes, someone will try and recruit me for their choir (luckily, my own parish won me over in that regard). At the same time, I've always let my fear get the best of me and thus never made Regionals or anything like that. I've also been very inconsistent with practice, something necessary. It wasn't until I inherited my brother's small guitar and went to a music room to find that I forgot every vocal warm up I'd ever learned that I realized I needed to change. So I signed myself up for music lessons this semester, as elective credits.

OK, Katie, you're addicted to music. What the hell does any of this have to do with Kenya?

It's through exploring my love for music, both creating and appreciating, that I've realized how universal music is. Every culture has their own musical tradition, their songs, their dances, their instruments, their musical structure, their chants and their rhythms. People relate to it and bond over it. Like any other work of beauty, it's something that channels through the soul and helps people overcome boundaries (yet can also be used to create them). Music evokes emotions, tells stories, and allows the expression of ideas in ways that words cannot begin to suffice. Most teens will tell you it is their companion, even when it feels like no one else is.

Music can also be used in IR. A friend of mine, studying in Cairo, is a music major with an interest in the Middle East and peace and conflict. I can see her hosting a music camp for Israeli and Palestinian children, teaching them how to work together to create something beautiful. U2 uses their music to make others aware of social injustices. In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the author talks about how his girlfriend taught women in Kiribati environmentally friendly agriculture techniques via their own song and dance. Encouraging musicians from different cultures and styles to share their creations could be a way to draw in tourism, educate others, bolster economies, and enable groups to preserve their traditions.

I want to learn of the music in Kenya. I want to learn not only who's popular, what instruments are used, what songs, but how it's used, what kinds for which times, how it's composed. I want to learn what the Kenyans have to teach me about music, how we're united by it, even as we're divided by it. Finally, I want to learn how to channel this medium, this hobby, this gift of mine, in a practical way to fulfilling my duty to this planet.

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