The Power of Music
The Power of Music
Reflecting on a transformative experience for an artist citizen in Swaziland
Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative
Reciprocal Exchange Fellow 2016 (Swaziland)
August 5, 2016 was an important day for me, for it not only marked the first day of the longest travel I have ever made, but it was also a day that marked my “dream come true”, I was finally going to Africa. There was a rush of excitement that came over my body once I passed through the gate at Logan airport. I remember when President Obama had made his announcement about creating an initiative for young African leaders, in hopes to build international relations between a host of young African and American professionals, individuals whom are identified as being the future leaders of their countries. I so deeply wanted to be apart of this initiative in some way, luckily enough I was not only able to meet one of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows, Miliswa Mamba (Swaziland) in the summer of 2015, but I was extremely blessed to have been considered to be one of the first cohort of Americans to travel to Africa as a YALI reverse fellow! This was truly a dream come true!
I remember being extremely anxious with numerous questions swirling through my mind, would my project be a success? And will I represent the initiative well? As I embarked on that two day journey to Southern Africa, there was one larger sequence of questions that remained, which became both my biggest hope and yet fear; can and will the power of music bridge the gap between two cultures, create awareness and become a vehicle of social change for the young people of Swaziland?
Emandla Emculo (Power of Music) is a joint initiative between Miliswa Mamba (Mandela Washington Fellow’15) and I, that would provide a high caliber two-week (August 8-19th) formal music education program, business forum and benefit concert to more than 150 Swazi youth, local officials, non/for profit leaders, scholars, educators, local and international artists. This initiative will influence and cultivate young artist citizens with the mission to promote social responsibility and cultural appreciation through the arts. Emandla Emculo hosted a business forum that allowed the exchanging of innovative concepts and engaging conversations regarding two topics: The importance of music in Swazi culture and the importance of music education from a global and national perspective. The forum produced action steps on how Emandla Emculo along with our partners will make possible to provide full high-quality music education programs in every school district, allowing the continued advancement of musicianship for all young Swazi artists regardless of their socio-economic status.
The program was truly a success, and we witnessed daily the impact music had on the lives of so many Swazi youth. However, the quest to discover if indeed the power of music can bridge the gap between two cultures was challenged, not during our work with the youth but instead during the work with a host of members throughout the Swazi communities. Initially, once I arrived I had expected to be greeted by unfamiliar faces, overwhelmed by a foreign language, and intimidated by a strong culture that bonded only the persons who knew it well. Thankfully, I experienced the opposite. I saw so many welcoming faces that at times reminded me of so many familiar faces from home. The language became an inspiring dialect that I had longed to hear daily, and the culture that seemed so foreign and intimidating actually felt relative, connecting me to so many similarities to Black culture in the Americas. While in Swaziland, I met so many inspiring young people with ambition and drive. Many of them are artists, technology experts, and young aspiring business owners. I had the distinct honor of working with some of Swaziland’s most talented artists, Velemseni, Vusi, Bholoja, Flowee, Switch, Musa, Sands, Sanele, and KrTC of Hip Hop. Through the power of music, we understood a common language, a familiar culture as artists, and engaged in daily discussion on how together we can further deepened each other's understanding of who we are as artist citizens. We challenged each other to remember that we have the social responsibility as artist to create art, which will promote positive change in our communities, country and world around us. These artists became my rock of support during my time in Swaziland, and to this day I am so moved at how our relationship as colleagues continue to blossom into a family. Even today, we continue to inspire and support one another with our musical aspirations, and are already thinking of possible ways to collaborate on each other’s future projects.
Swaziland has revealed to me greater views of the world and what role my life plays in it. I have learned that there are inspiring people all over this world, individuals who understands that they have a purpose here in life and that through the understanding of their purpose, apply their talents to be used as a vehicle for change, and a voice for the voiceless. In order for us to meet these inspiring individuals, we must allow ourselves to be open to opportunities that will force us to step outside of our comfort zones. Once you have taken that initiative, you must remain hopeful during the process, for it is during these moments, if we are open enough, we shall meet and connect ourselves with amazing individuals, just as the ones I met in Swaziland.
From my experience in Swaziland, I for myself have learned that I am a lot stronger than I could have ever imagined. That I am on the right path towards making a difference in music education and using my music to provide social change for those less fortunate in the world. Finally, that I am a dreamer, but a risk taker as well, willing to do what is necessary to make sure the dreams of myself and others come to reality.
I am excited to continue the work already birthed through this fellowship with Emandla Emculo, looking forward to witnessing its continued growth at each annual event, expanding throughout Swaziland and further to neighboring countries in the continent of Africa. I hope to continue to partner with YALI and it’s alumni both in the states and in Africa, creating more opportunities for young people via music and arts education. I am currently looking into ways to continue the initiative of YALI Reverse exchange by providing opportunities for a YALI fellow from Swaziland to partner with a few American organizations that will assist in resources, providing us with the tools needed for continued growth of our vision for the young people of Swaziland.