Meet Joseph Omondi. He’s a music teacher at Ghetto Classics and everything he has learnt upto the point of teaching he has learned from that very Ghetto Classics. How awesome is that? Joseph is 22 and joined Ghetto Classics back in 2010 where he started off as a percussionist. He has since gone ahead to learn the sax too.
Ghetto Classics is a community program based in Korogocho slums that works to nurture youngsters through music. This is where all proceeds of the hugely popular Safaricom Jazz Festival go. And Ghetto Classics is not just music. It is a place where members meet, interact, dare to hope and dream and ultimately take the rough edges off their otherwise very difficult lives in the slums. It is family.
Take Joseph for example. The only other family he has is his brother who also lives in the dire circumstances of Korogocho slums after their mother left Nairobi and went upcountry. Korogocho is all they’ve known all their lives. What struck me first about Joseph is his humility. None of that thug life demeanour one would mistakenly expect from a slum hardened young adult.
Music, and indeed any form of high art, is disciplined, inspiring and motivating. Since joining Ghetto Classics, Joseph has watched himself transform into a confident young man and has since discovered his leadership skills. Before Ghetto Classics, he earned a living from the Dandora dumpsite where he would go every day after school and on weekends to look for scraps to sell. He would earn between 30-50 bob a day and that would cater for his dinner for the day and breakfast the next day. It took willpower and discipline to stick with the music because he was moving from a point of making little money to a point of making none. But he stuck with the music with the outlook of a bright future ahead of him and here he is.
For someone whose life previously begun and ended in the slums, Joseph has met a lot of people who have opened his world in ways he could never have imagined. He has been to embassies and met ambassadors. He has played with the Safaricom Youth Ochestra. He has made music with, and drawn inspiration from some great names in Jazz, many of whom visit Korogocho to be part of the great initiative that is Ghetto Classics when they come to the country for Safaricom Jazz. He also really loves Sons of Kemet and Soweto Kinch who he says is so far his greatest inspiration among the stars he has met. I totally get him on Soweto Kinch. The Feb 2015 Safaricom Jazz Festival was my favourite to date and I’ve never forgotten this mad genius who came in with an up tempo mix of hip/hop and jazz. He even managed to work the crowd into an impromptu freestyle.
Joseph finds it powerful that he’s able to meet people with whom he does not necessarily share a language but he’s still able to learn from them and they to make music together. I found myself thinking Hello Salif Keita! I remember how this Malian who has been through quite a bit of adversity himself came into the country for Safaricom Jazz with a promise to use music to communicate through all the diverse cultural and language barriers. He did just that at a packed Bomas of Kenya on August 29th 2015. The fact that the vast majority did not understand a word of what he was singing did not dilute the beauty and power of his music.
Joseph whose dream is to become a great musician has many many blessings. But among them all, his greatest is to be able to give back. To impart musical and life skills to the young kids of Korogocho. More so because other than teaching music, he also counsels them and tries to steer them in a less hopeless direction in life. His greatest honour is to be able to change Korogocho one kid at a time because he believes that even with outside help, the people of Koch as he calls it are the best placed to change Koch.
Teaching music has earned him respect in Korogocho and now children and adults alike fondly shout ‘teacher teacher’ as he walks around the slums.
Safaricom Jazz is just around the corner, happening at Uhuru Gardens on 5th November. The guest artists will be Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Fatoumata Diawara from Mali. Local band Shamsi Music will also be performing. Get your ticket early, get entertained and also and be part of the Ghetto Classics initiative. Tickets are available at select Safaricom shops, the Michael Joseph Centre and via M-Ticketing by dialing 1511.