Ruben Centre Orchestra
Yes you read it correctly. An orchestra complemented by skilled teachers and a vital ongoing relationship with Ghetto Classics Nairobi, which was started by Elizabeth Njoroge in early part of this decade.
Elizabeth was born in Nairobi. In her childhood she developed a passion for music and when she was four she started to take piano lessons. As an adult she moved to Canada and then to the United Kingdom to pursue her other passion: medical disciplines. She obtained a degree in biochemistry and pharmacy, but she has given up on her passion: music. At some point in her life she also thought of embarking on a career as a professional musician, but she told the NEW YORK TIMES: “I did not have the guts”.
When Njoroge went back to Nairobi in 2003, she was struck by the fact that there were few music initiatives and that only white people had access to music schools. In 2007 Njoroge started to host a programme of classical music in a local radio and came to understand that more people than she thought were interested in classical music, even those who aren’t members of the wealthy white community. In 2008 Njoroge decided to launch the programme GHETTO CLASSICS
All this in order to provide young people living in the slum of Korogocho and in the poorest areas of Kenya’s capital with musical education. At first only14 children attended the classes that were given twice a week and Kenya’s Conservatoire of Music made available the instruments to them. But then, thanks to donations, the orchestra has managed to buy enough instruments.
In 2013 the orchestra made a big step forward: Njoroge decided to welcome children living in harsh conditions as well as privileged children into the Ghetto Classics Orchestra. From that moment on the orchestra has become a means for promoting social integration (and transformation) in a country where socio-economic inequalities are really marked.
Since 2014 Ghetto classics has been greatly expanded due to bringing Safaricom (largest telephone company in Kenya) on board as the major sponsor. In 2017 Safaricom sponsored the Ghetto Classic program to the tune of US$170,000.
And in 2016, Elizabeth got involved with Ruben Centre and of course Mukuru slums have become the new centre of growth for Ghetto Classics.
Elizabeth’s vision for empowering children and youth fits hand in glove with the Ruben vision ‘striving for a just and empowered Mukuru community.’
Our vision for this orchestra is for it to be a true instrument (all puns aside) for uniting the whole slum community, including the children, youth and adults alike. Primary children when they progress to high school will be welcome back every Saturday and holiday period to continue their music education. Eventually these older young adults will become the teachers and mentors for the younger ones. The orchestra should become a rallying tool for the wider community and add value to functions and gatherings.
In 2017 there was not a lot to sing and dance about, however seeds were sown when twice a week a couple of Classic’s music teachers would come to teach music to interested students. Soon about forty students were learning recorder and learning to read music.
However a tsunami was about to hit Ruben Centre and its children.
Elizabeth belief in the Centre and its potential for supporting her vision was empowered by a donation of music instruments from Belgium.
It may have taken six months to get the instruments to Nairobi but that frustrating period was put into perspective when they finally arrived into Kenya’s capital. “Build a home for them and they are yours to use,” she said.
One month later we had it, thanks to my mate Peter Murphy (Australian of course) and now there are many violins, clarinets, flutes, drums, trombones, recorders, saxophones and cellos (2) there and these past two weeks Ruben Centre has put on a music camp.
Each day around seven Ghetto Classic music teachers would arrive and with the school holidays in full swing, different classrooms became rooms for the different instruments, teacher and children. The daily routine also included choir time and this was greatly assisted by our two visiting musicians, Steve and Jessica from Australia who complemented the work of our local teachers.
On the last day of the camp, Thursday 23rd August, the children put on their ‘See What We Can Do Concert’ for a few parents and other interested visitors. It was truly an inspiring occasion for all in attendance as they reveled in the performances of the children.
Long journeys begin with small steps, orchestras can grow from a few cheap plastic recorders, good will, together with hard work and hopefully Ruben Centre and Ghetto Classics have truly just begun such a journey.
I smiled as I imagined updating my C.V. An O’Shea with as much music in him as rusty dunny door blowing in the wind, and yet now the one to blame for a brass band in Tonga and now an orchestra in Kenya. It maybe a little early to pop the champagne but if it thrives like the now more than 25 years Tongan Brass band that I saw in action in 2016 when I visited, then I will happily take it.
May lives be shaped by the talents developed and may the wider community truly rejoice.
Thanks to all