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Dandora youths break stereotype about classical music

Classical music has found a strange bedmate in the sprawling Dandora estate, where teenagers are being nurtured to be the next generation of prodigies.

The initiative, dubbed “Ghetto Classics”, has seen teenagers abandon the life of rummaging through the Dandora dumpsite for plastic wastes to take up donated instruments and produce classical music.

Elizabeth Njoroge, the director of The Art of Music Foundation, started the initiative in 2009 with only 10 children.  It now has more than 600 children thanks to support from the  Safaricom International Jazz Festival.

“When you think about classical music, impoverished neighborhoods never come to your mind,” said Ms Njoroge.

Her main mission is to promote the appreciation and performance of music among underprivileged communities in Kenya.

The foundation relies primarily on donated instruments as well as proceeds from the Safaricom Jazz Festival to buy new equipment.

Ghetto Classics members practise together with Maya (center) ahead of the Safaricom Jazz Festival. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU
Ghetto Classics members play the Cello together with-Maya (center) ahead of the Safaricom Jazz Festival. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

The foundation wants to do more than give the children a second-hand flute or clarinet. Ms Njoroge wants to give them a new life.

“These are kids with very little structure and supervision in their lives, and learning to master complex skills such as classical music gives them significance life skills they might not otherwise learn.”

“By far the biggest challenge is the lives of the kids themselves,” Njoroge explains. “They live tough lives, and face extreme poverty, abuse and emotional, physical and sexual abuse and hopelessness.”

Safaricom has to date donated more than Sh 12 Million to the foundation.

The young musicians make up a brass band and string ensemble that practices every Sunday.

They have achieved national recognition and made appearances on TV and state functions.

“We still have a very long way to go,” says Ms Njoroge, “but we are taking steps in the right direction. Things will be very different in 20 years time.”

The young musicians have performed at State House, Nairobi, where they were invited by President Uhuru Kenyatta to perform on Jamhuri Day last year.

It was, says Njoroge, “the greatest achievement since we’ve started.”

The Ghetto Classics will be entertaining patrons on Sunday February 21 during the Safaricom International Jazz Festival at Kasarani stadium training grounds. The festival will be headlined by the three time Grammy award winning artist Branford Marsalis.