Using Music to Heal in Uganda, Africa

Posted by admin on June 11, 2012 in Health, Rock and Roll |

It has long been known that there is a direct coorilation between music and the powers music has to help heal the human body.  Ancient Egyptian healers built special temples designed for the sole purpose of healing the Egyptian population.

In Uganda, Joey Blake an associate professor at Berklee College of Music and Kim Thuita are making a difference in the culture, by bringing the healing powers of music to bear in a positive effort to unite the community.

Using Music to Heal


It is a Tuesday night at the Kigali Serena Hotel, and Joey Blake is serenading the waiter with his dinner order. “I would like some pork chops,” Blake croons into the microphone. “Pork chops, please, some pork chops.”

As the waiter takes down Blake’s order, a growing audience fills the hotel lounge and multiple voices begin to clamor. “‘Ladies’ Night’, Joey! Play ‘Ladies’ Night!’” says one fan. “Do ‘September’!” demands another.

It is 11 PM and Blake, an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music, has already performed the “last song” of the evening four times. Still, Blake winks at pianist, Kim Thuita, who responds with a head shake and a laugh. Moments later, the opening beats of ‘Ladies’ Night’ immediately rouses cheers and audience members stand and push aside chairs and tables for an impromptu dance party.

The informal jam session at Serena Hotel on May 29 marked the end of an eventful and music-filled four days in Kigali, during which Blake led music training workshops to patients of WE-ACTx (Women’s Equity and Access to Care and Treatment), a medical organization in Rwanda that provides medical treatment, psycho-social care, legal and work counseling to over 3500 patients.

The workshops followed-up on Blake’s first trip to Rwanda – and Africa – three months earlier as an ambassador for Musicians without Borders (MwB), an NGO that uses the power of music to bridge divides and heal communities in areas torn by war. In February, the multi-talented artist, who has recorded and produced five albums with ten-time Grammy Award winner Bobby McFerrin, already knew he would return to Rwanda.

“I grew up as a child admiring Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi – these people who were ambassadors of peace and harmony and community,” says Blake. “Music was my way to find a way to create something like that in the world.”

Blake makes a statement – not just with a voice that is as silky smooth as it is rhythmically percussive – but with a lifelong dedication to promoting harmony and changing the world through music.

“For me, music is a way to communicate with people: a way to lift the spirit,” says Blake.

At Blake’s music workshops, youth leaders at WE-ACTx took turns practicing and then teaching the musical skills they had gained. As the designated teachers introduced concepts and led singing activities, other youth leaders participated as hypothetical students whose antics frequently disrupted lessons with hilarity and laughter.

“Knowing some of the things that [these patients] are going through with their personal lives, it’s inspiring for me to see their enthusiasm and their pride and strength,” says Blake.

Umutoni Nadine, one of the youth leaders at WE-ACTx, smiles when she talks about how music has changed her life. “Music has helped me to forget about the bad things I have to go through and to be happy,” says Umutoni, 18. “It’s important for me because I want to know it and I want to teach other kids.”

Sustainability of the music training, however, is a key focus of MwB as it moves forward with the program, says Danny Felsteiner, project manager of MwB. “One of our main goals is to create a strong network of local musicians and organizations, and to train the youth leaders not only to do music, but also to coordinate and manage parts of the program,” says Felsteiner. “Based on our experience in other countries, we’ve learned that without building local capacity that can support durability and sustainability, projects cannot succeed.”

To that aim, MwB has formed partnerships with local musicians and institutions. In addition to the connection with WE-ACTx, MwB has also gained support from the Kigali Music School and three local musicians – Aline Gahongayire, Moise Mutangana, and Kim Thuita – who will continue the work in between the training weeks when the MwB team is not in Rwanda.

Back at Berklee, Blake has started an organization called “Singing Tribe” that uses music to connect and build communities. Blake hopes that the Singing Tribe will be able to visit countries like Rwanda to create partnerships with local organizations and even develop scholarship programs that give talented local musicians the opportunity to attend Berklee. The Singing Tribe also serves as a model – a microcosm where people from different backgrounds and nationalities can come together in mutual appreciation of music.

“There’s 25 of us from fourteen different countries,” says Blake. “We’re enjoying and sharing music together – there’s no reason why the world can’t do the same.”


Joey Blake and Kim Thuita are showing that there is hope for healing and the health of nations with peace, love and understanding.  And of course Music!

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