As a young child, Moses Kalomo slept evenings on a bus platform in Zambia to catch the early morning bus to neighbouring Zimbabwe for weekly music lessons. Moses also approached an orchestra leader to ask for lessons but was mistaken for a street kid looking for money and was chased away.
“That day I was in tears [and it] really hurt,” says Moses ,”I will never forget that experience.” It were obstacles like these that Moses overcame to follow his passion for music. It was also overcoming such events that eventually brought Moses together with Dr. Paul Kelly to start the Ngoma Dolce Music Academy in 2009.
Lusaka, Zambia, a city of about 2 million people, has many musicians, but at the time the Academy was starting, few had any formal education in classical music. Moses was a music teacher at the Lusaka International Community School and constantly received requests for music lessons – from students, parents and other adults. He was also the Zambian co-ordinator for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and knew that with the demand he was receiving for lessons, coupled with the connections he had with providing regulated exams, he could play a role in providing structured musical education to budding musicians. He met Dr. Paul Kelly and together they put together a plan to open the Academy, with a goal “to bring classical music of all origins, traditional and international, to the community of Lusaka, particularly its children, and to develop musical talent.”
A Zambian initiative, the Academy is not only supported by the local community, but local musicians are also helping through teaching or other activities – so the Academy is also exposing amateur musicians to professionals in their chosen fields. But the continued growth leads to other challenges.
As a child learning music, a challenge Moses faced was not having access to instruments. Often, Zambian music students turn to choir work simply because there are not enough musical instruments to allow them to practice and grow to become professional musicians. This same issue is now facing the Academy. Their current collection of instruments includes a harpsichord and some string instruments. A chance meeting with Heidi Krutzen, the principal harpist of the Vancouver Opera, would wind up changing the Academy’s dire instrument situation.
Heidi, who was in Zambia on other work and travel with her organisation Malambo Grassroots, was invited to come see the Academy, as a fellow musician. Seeing the small collection of musical instruments that were to turn the young Zambian students into musicians, Heidi knew her musical connections could help the music students in Lusaka. The response though, was unlike anything Heidi, or the Academy, expected. Through emails to fellow musicians and those in her community in Vancouver, Canada, the donations grew from a few teaching aids to a vast collection including 26 trumpets, 2 cellos, 14 violins, 2 pianos and even an electric guitar.
Why such an overwhelming response for instrument donations? Heidi feels that the answer may be that music is universal and something everyone has access to; it is something that appeals internationally and is a “common language”; and people are donating to something they can understand and appreciate. The idea of music as a universal language is also echoed by Kinobe, a musician from Uganda who is looking at the possibilities to create a music school in his native Uganda. Kinobe says that “music is a language and all instruments, regardless of where they come from, they can speak together.”
Kinobe, Moses and Paul all see that part of the importance in creating a music school is to provide a regulated and structured environment for students, while also providing a venue for artists to collaborate. The idea of having a school in a fixed location also addresses an issue that any music teacher in Zambia faces – a challenge of finding locations to teach students without travelling far distances between lessons. Now, the Academy has gone from providing a space, to needing more space. In the three years since they began, they have already outgrown the 4 room-house they are renting. With the biggest room already being too small, classes are even held outside when there are many students.
Besides having a larger facility to house the school in the future, Paul and Moses see expanding the current branches of activity at the Academy into local schools and communities as an important goal. In addition to expanding music locally, the Academy will also provide a platform to share traditional African music with countries outside of Africa. The work at the school may also lead to the creation of new forms of music –as Kinobe has seen with traditional music and his collaborative efforts with jazz and classical musicians all over the world. Of his work, Kinobe says, “I believe in cultural unity and music is the most powerful way to bring cultures together.”
Kinobe highlights that “young people in Africa are so passionate, dedicated and ambitious and they have a strong vision for Africa but they need the platform to share and show their views.” Educational institutes like the Ngoma Dolce Music Academy hope to be that platform.
As was the case with Moses, Kinobe’s love of music began at a young age when he heard musicians playing in the palace he grew up near, but unlike Moses, his growth as a musician himself began because he had access, and was able to attend, a primary school with a strong music program. It is being able to provide opportunities like this for children in Zambia that has driven Moses’ passion for the Academy.
Moses would like to make a small contribution for those who have the same passion but for whom the circumstances aren't favourable. “The spirit of music is a gift for everyone and everyone has the right to use it to express themselves.” And while he loves music and is excited about the future possibilities with the Academy, Moses still holds the memories close of the long, tough road he has taken. In reflection he shares, “I am not complaining but I sometimes think what I would have been if I had had all the opportunities. “ Hopefully the students of the Ngoma Dolce Music Academy will never have the same thoughts.