Giving the Gift of Music to Students in Jamaica

Written by KEEN Ambassador Aaron Nigel Smith

Last February, I had the opportunity to spend a week as a guest music teacher at the Haile Selassie High School in Kingston, Jamaica. During my time with them we learned, recorded and performed a variety of songs while participating in the annual Bob Marley Week celebrations. This experience was transformative for the students, the greater community and me. The hardest part of the week was after the program ended and students asked me if I would be back. Unable to answer with certainty, I simply explained to them that I would do my best to come back as soon as possible. Thanks to the support of KEEN, the 1Love Foundation and REMO drums, I was not only able to return to Haile Selassie High School, but was able to donate 37 drums to the school that will be used in a weekly drum class.

From the moment the drums arrived on site, the school was vibrant with enthusiasm in anticipation of the beginning our drumming class. Students who would otherwise rush home after the last bell rang happily helped to unpack and assemble the new drums from REMO. Then something magical happened—the school came alive as the students proudly played the drums in procession to the classroom with confidence and beaming smiles. Immediately, it became clear to me that all the challenges that came with coordinating instrument donation, shipping, and clearing customs were well worth the effort. I would do it every day for a new school each time if I could.

We spent the week learning basic strokes for hand drumming, experiencing the fun, enriching and even therapeutic effects of recreational drumming along with traditional West African rhythms. On our final day, the drum class performed for the entire student body and recorded one of the rhythms: Fanga Alafia. A local recording artist and drummer, Jah Lex, will continue teaching a drum class for the students each week. Upon completion of the 2014 residency, the question came up again: “When will you return to Jamaica?” This time with more confidence I said, “Soon come.”  With the support of partners like KEEN, 1Love and REMO drums, I hope to return to Haile Selassie High School with even more musical instruments in the future. It really does make a difference in the lives of the children.  In our post-residency interviews, a reoccurring theme was the affirmation that music makes them feel better, giving them a sense of hope and possibility.

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