Ghanaians Musicians Get the American Experience

by Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Two musicians from the West African nation of Ghana will have the chance
this summer to study music at Berklee College of Music with some help from
reggae legend Rita Marley. For nearly 20 years young musicians from
across the country have come to study at Berklee’s five week summer
performance program, which is from July 8 through August 12. Students
will perform a wide selection of musical tastes ranging from pop, jazz,
rock, funk, fusion and R&B. They will also learn musicianship and theory
through private instruction, instrumental labs and ensemble playing.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for both the students and the
school,” said Berklee assistant professor Matt Jenson. “They will be
receiving training they would otherwise not be able to get back in Ghana.”

This opportunity came out the Africa Unite 2006 symposium Jenson attended
in Ghana this past spring. The symposium was produced by the Rita Marley
Foundation as part of Bob Marley’s 61st birthday celebrations. Rita
Marley approached Jenson about having Ghanaian musicians study at Berklee.
Rita Marley's invitation for Jenson to come to Ghana came from her hearing
about the class he teaches, “The Music and Life of Bob Marley,” which is
the only performance class of its kind in the world. According to
Berklee, the class is “aided by rare video footage and audio examples and
students learn about the evolution of Marley's career, and the
socio-political circumstances from which his music and ideas arose.” The
Bob Marley enthusiast was so enthralled with the prospect of having the
musicians come to Berklee that he immediately went to Berklee president
Roger Brown about the idea.

“Our president has a lot of experience in Africa because he used to work
for a relief agency there,” Jensen` said. “He really wanted to do this.
Berklee provides the tuition, room and board and the Rita Marley
Foundation covered their airfare.”

A call for auditions for the program was put out and the selection process
was highly competitive. Both Jenson and Marley auditioned over 18
musicians in Ghana. Ultimately they selected trumpeter Joanna Denaka and
pianist Victor Korsi Dey to come this summer.

While fetching water in Accra one day, Denaka was turned on to playing the
trumpet by another female trumpeter. “I was surprised to see this woman
playing trumpet, as I thought playing horns was something for men,” Denaka
said in a statement. “In my church women could sing in the choir, but the
musicians in the brass band were all men. She showed me that women could
play music as well.”

Dey started peforming at a young age. He was inspired by jazz musicians
from Africa, Europe and the United States. He currently plays three
nights a week at a nightclub in Accra and had performed in jazz festivals
when they come to town. He has had the privilege of performing with such
musical greats as Courtney Pine, Hugh Masekela and Stevie Wonder.

“It was an amazing experience to see the depth of talented musicians in
Ghana,” Jenson said in a press release. “Most players have had very
little formal training and despite this – by pure drive, inspiration and
hard work – they have developed their skills to a very high level.”

At the end of the program the students will have a chance to perform their
craft to the Berklee community. Jenson hopes that the students will go
back home and become better musicians while providing support for other
budding musicians.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Jenson said. “This is a once in a
lifetime opportunity that only the most talented musicians get to have.”


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