The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
By Steve Klotz, Rhythms of Africa
The Big Day is Saturday afternoon, January 12, at the Adrienne Arts Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. Thirty--five youngsters from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami take the stage for the first time ever, performing as a percussion ensemble accompanied by professional musicians from around the world before a packed house ready to experience the transformational power of music made real, personal, soul-stirring.
The program, “Rhythms of Africa/Music Around the World,” is a musical journey, one that describes the movement of ancient rhythms sprung from the souls of vibrant cultures and carried by hand and heart from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas. As the music of the African Diaspora, the performance celebrates both heritage and survival. And because music is the universal language, the performance welcomes one and all to celebrate.
Rhythms of Africa reflects the inspirational genius and creativity of “Reggae Ambassador” Willie Stewart, former percussionist and co-director of the international supergroup Third World. These days, in his role as Chairman of Embrace Music Foundation, his objective is to restore and enhance music education to schools and communities, providing at-risk and disadvantaged children with opportunities to experience the life-changing effects of listening to, understanding, and making music.
In just 20 hours of instruction, students learn about and perform on a wide variety of percussion instruments drawn from around the world. Most participants have little if any formal musical training. The program addresses their inexperience on several levels, providing not only instruction in basic musical concepts such as rhythms and beat, but empathy and listening skills, the role of music in varying cultures, teamwork, character development, etc.
The program challenges children to recognize, channel, and direct their creativity. They see how to achieve their dreams through respect for themselves and others, hard work and discipline, passion and sincerity. They build on their inner strength and character using their own untapped talents. They learn to work as a team, and to achieve tasks and goals from which they experience satisfaction and gratification from performing. They will astonish themselves and captivate audiences with their newfound mastery of the universal language and power of music.
Uniquely, music does this.
The third presentation of Rhythms of Africa will be followed later this year in Broward County, performed by an entirely selection of children. Both presentations are supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation. The vision is to encourage as many participants as possible who continue their journeys once they’ve been shown the way. Beyond that -- who can know for sure? As Willie challenges every audience, “If we can do this much with just 20 hours of instruction -- imagine what we can do with a whole year? Or two? Or ten?”