AS TOLD TO ORKEESWA

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"THE MORE I TAUGHT, THE BETTER I GOT AS A MUSICIAN."

Orkeeswa Alum, Emmanuel, is a recent recipient of an Orkeeswa Incubator grant for his project, Educated Talents, and his mission to create educational music and video production to support students in the learning process. Read his story to hear how he discovered his passion for music and giving back to his community.

Story by Orkeeswa Alum, Edna

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“One day, I must play those things.” That’s what I said to myself when I saw the 6th graders at my primary school playing drums. They were leather with the Tanzania flag painted on them. I was in 4th grade. We had assembly every day, and teachers would go around to check that every student was in a proper clean school uniform. It was a process that took almost an hour, so the drum group entertained. That day I went home and practiced the drumbeats on empty buckets that my mom used for water storage. 

At school, they had a room where they stored the drums, but for one to be allowed to touch the drums, they needed to be at a certain level of expertise, and I hadn’t ever played them before. I started to practice every day at home. I told myself as I practiced: This sounds like what I heard at school today. By the time I was in 5th grade, I was good. Then the 6th graders graduated. We didn’t have music for two weeks.  I told my friends, “Hey guys, I have been training and I know I can do this. I can teach you.” Each day, I taught them a few of the things that I knew, and then we brought back the school’s percussion group. That was my first music group. It was also the first time I taught someone a skill I learned, and it was when I realized I loved sharing what I knew with people."

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“When I joined Orkeeswa School after 6th grade, I found the music room. I saw the keyboard, and I was like, “What? How do you know where to press?” I wanted to switch it on and see if it sounded familiar. I struggled for almost an hour without any success. There were no music teachers at the school, so I did not know who to ask. I went home that day very embarrassed. The next day, I just pressed on random buttons, and I saw a blue light pop on the keyboard. At that moment, I knew it was the beginning of something very awesome."

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"From there on, I spent hours alone in that room.  I would go in, close the door, and teach myself different things. Two other Orkeeswa students joined me and we started an amazing Orkeeswa band. With a lot of practice, we produced melodies and songs that we would perform during lunch. I became somewhat competent with live music. I got the opportunity to work with some incredible people. During after-school activities, I taught younger students. It made me feel useful. I miss it to this day. Orkeeswa afforded me foundational knowledge of music."

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“When I got the chance to go to the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, I met actual professionals. At Orkeeswa, we did not have a lot of musicians, so I felt like a big fish in a small pond. At ALA, I was a little fish in a big ocean. Students came with more background experience compared to me. But I once got invited to play drums in front of everyone. There were cameras all over and I had a weird stomach feeling. I held my breath and went on stage. I still recall the feeling when I finished that performance. I became friends with those people that I once feared. I started playing a lot of piano for assemblies and school events. And then, I started exploring music production.

After my ALA graduation, I wanted to share what I learned with other Orkeeswa students, so I went back and facilitated music sessions with 6th grade students at Orkeeswa. It was when I learned the value of giving back. The more I taught, the better I got as a musician. At night, I would sit on a sofa and think of something new to teach the kids the next day."

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“When I joined African Leadership University in Rwanda, I already knew what I wanted. With the confidence that I gained from teaching at Orkeeswa, I produced my first music and uploaded it on YouTube. I did not have a keyboard. I used my laptop, a little microphone, and a sound card that I used my savings to buy. When I released the music, I received criticism about quality, but I pushed through. I wanted to focus on my goal and learn to be comfortable with the things that weren’t easy, like not having support from an audience.

Two weeks ago, I got a keyboard. I can now translate what my mind thinks and turn it into an actual product. I am now able to travel far. I also have a band at ALU, and we produce music and release it every week. Once we produced this melody and someone came up to me and said, “I was having a hard day, but your music made me feel better.” Then I knew that I was no longer doing music for fun but to change lives. I am happy to see that my talent has gone beyond entertaining, and it is now making a difference."