By Steven S. Klotz, Embrace Music Foundation
When at long last the applause died down, with the audience filing out of the filled-to-capacity Adrienne Arsht Performing Center, the buzz began.
“That might have been the best show I’ve ever seen in this hall,” an usher commented. “It’s hard to believe what I just saw — those kids played along with those old pros like they’d been practicing for 20 years!”
The program was “Rhythms of Africa/Music Around the World,” a 75 minute musical journey 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. The music of the African Diaspora, its performance celebrates both heritage and survival, reflected by the 35 teenage amateur musical novices from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami who performed with the 20 international professionals assembled for the project.
Led by “Reggae Ambassador” Willie Stewart, former percussionist and co-director of the internationally renowned group Third World, the Rhythms of Africa ensemble traced the progress of both rhythms and musical instruments from their African origins to contemporary presentations, from Nigerian Talk Drum Communication and South Africa “Sound of the Click” to Caribbean Ska, Guaguanco, and Steel Pan; New Orleans Jazz, and urban hip-hop.
But the real marvel is the kids. In just 20 hours of instruction, they absorbed not only basic musical concepts such as rhythms and beat, but proficiency on several musical instruments, timing and teamwork, and enhanced their empathy and listening skills. This was all by design: Rhythms of Africa is the flagship program of Embrace Music Foundation, with a mission 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.
The lesson is not lost on stakeholders, as this email attests:
I am writing to congratulate you and the BBBS organization for staging such an incredibly successful Rhythms of Africa program last week at the Arsht Center. As you know, my little brother was selected to participate in the 10-week program and it was inspiring for me to see him grow as a musician and become more confident in his talents. Willie and all of the instructors were absolutely fabulous! It would be great if you were able to continue this artistic program as I’m certain many more little brothers and sisters could benefit tremendously, just like [my brother]. Best of luck in this endeavor and please let me know if there is anything I can do to assist.
Thank you, Knight Foundation, for making this program possible.