I returned from my 2018 SONG EXCHANGE adventures mid-March and as usual hit the ground running but I wanted to share some images and stories here before I am totally swept up at home.
My first stop this year was in Livingstone, Zambia where my longtime friend and singing buddy, Marsha Winsryg, works on her African Artists Community Development Project (AACDP) at the Mama Bakhita Home for Disabled Children. I have long wanted to visit there, knowing from Marsha that the women she works with sing all day long while they work. It was such a pleasure to spend my days with them, sewing and singing and singing. I felt like I had come home, being in a community where song is woven into daily life as an essential ingredient.
Marsha and the Zambezi Doll Company crew
Doll makers at work
Dolls before and after! My contribution to the project was to share some ideas on how to doll up the dolls.
Marsha painting with the children of the Mama Bakhita Home for Disabled Children
Dancing (and singing)!
A trip to Livingstone would not be complete without a visit to Victoria Falls. Breathtaking!
Under the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe - soaking wet but very happy!
In addition to singing with the women of the Zambezi Doll Collective I had the pleasure of singing with the children of a primary school directed by an old friend of Marsha's, Sister Bridget.
Last day in Zambia, singing a praise song in Kiswahili that I learned in Kenya and shared in Zambia. For more information about the Zambezi Doll Collective and Marsha's work please visit the AACDP website.
From Zambia I continued on to Kenya where I reconnected with friends and made new ones. After a brief stop in Nairobi I traveled north to Daraja Academy at the base of Mount Kenya in Nanyuki. This was my 5th year visiting this fabulous school which meant that the girls who were participating in the school's post graduate "transition" program were in their first year at the school on my first visit. I have developed relationships with many of the girls over time and it has been very special to witness their growth over the years. They are now women, no longer girls, and they are on a mission to be leaders in the Kenya of tomorrow.
Team building with song. The images below are of me working with first and second year students to help connect old and new students.
Another group that I love to visit in the Nanyuki area are in the photo
below. The Simama Project was founded in 2010 by Matt Orcutt, who was a volunteer at Daraja at the time. In partnership with local leaders and social workers the project has helped many children who were living on the street to have stable lives and to return to school.
I am amazed at how quickly the kids pick up the songs I teach them and how much they remember from year to year. And I don't think I could find a more enthusiastic group of students!
They are a joy to teach and to learn songs from. The girls have taught me some awesome hand clapping songs. I am determined to master the new one they attempted to teach me so that I can keep up with them on my next visit!
After a little over a week in Nanyuki I was scheduled to return to Nairobi to teach at a couple of schools in the city. On the way there I had the opportunity to stop briefly at a lovely little school in the Aberdare mountains, an area I had never been to which is incredibly lush and beautiful and quite a contrast to the arid Nanyuki. I had a blast singing with the lovely children of Flying Kites Leadership Academy, where critically-poor students receive access to a high quality, competitive education. So much fun! I can't wait to go back!
Teaching a harvest song from West Africa at Flying Kites
The kids teach me a popular Kenyan song with great enthusiasm!
Back in Nairobi I had the opportunity to teach at two schools that couldn't be more different: Spurgeons Academy and Brookhouse School.
Singing at Spurgeons Academy in the Kibera slum in Nairobi with students and their teachers from Anno's Africa/One Fine Day, two non-profits that have teamed up to bring the arts to underprivileged children in Sub Saharan Africa.
If you have a few minutes check out this short video made by One Fine Day folks with kids from Spurgeons. Clear evidence that the following quote on their website is true - “Any Human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so”- Doris Lessing
Teaching at on the stage of the beautiful theatre at Brookhouse School, a private international school in Nairobi
And I was also able to visit and sing with several Daraja Academy graduates who are now attending college and university programs in the city.
Onward to Germany! The final leg of my trip included a visit to Europe. It occurred to me last year during a layover in Frankfurt that I should make Germany a Song Exchange destination. Although I am mostly drawn to the music of Africa and the African diaspora my own heritage is German and Austrian so why not check out the folk songs of Germany? I contacted some old friends and asked if they could connect me with anyone interested in sharing and/or learning songs in the area where they live. Eva and Volker Gotze connected me to a local middle school where I taught a class of 60 middle schoolers and also managed to organize an evening of song sharing at a friends house. I came away with a few lovely rounds and have enjoyed sharing songs in the native tongue of my parents. Singing a song in German is a very different experience compared to singing in Zulu! There is something in a language that is very particular to the people and culture of its origin and singing in it brings deeper understanding.
Eva and Volker Gotze, my hosts in Germany
The last country I visited was Italy where I spent a few days in Florence with Marsha Winsryg who was preparing for one of her fabulous fundraising tours. Marsha introduced me to her friend Michela who taught me a lovely Tuscan folksong and we also attended a rehearsal of Michela's gospel choir. What a pleasure to sing gospel songs in English with Italians in Florence!
Michela Peisih singing a Tuscan folksong
My very last stop was in Rome where I stayed with my old friend Lucina DeMartis who I met in the 1980s when we were both studying dance in NYC. Lucina has taught Haitian dance in Rome for many years and helped me to connect with The Griot Bookstore where I taught a workshop for the second year in a row. I also learned a new Haitian song from Lucina which I look forward to sharing.
Workshop at Libreria Griot in Rome
Now that I have returned home I have been teaching the songs that I have collected during my travels at my monthly Community Sings and other gatherings and I am very excited to have been invited to teach a weekend singing workshop - "Singing for Every Body and Soul" - at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts in December 2018. The description of the class will be coming soon online but if you would like to hear more please get in touch. I am thrilled to have a whole weekend to share songs I have learned all over the world!
In the coming months I will be working on bringing the Song Exchange Project home. If you know of any organizations: businesses, schools, non-profits interested in hearing about my work please connect me with them. And if you might be able to support my work by making a financial contribution you can do so on my website: www.bewellsing.com. Thank you so much for your support and for taking the time to read this.