For many cultures, music is a primary form of expression. It serves as an outlet for struggles with identity, relationships, politics and even poverty. Since music encapsulates various elements of a culture, it is essential for heritage preservation and for spreading awareness about the adversity that the respective cultures face. Music is a universal language, capable of reaching out and touching the hearts of any listener. This includes children, who are extremely receptive to music and are capable of learning of its benefits and values. Here are five examples that show how music helps impoverished youth cope with their experiences and spread awareness of the world’s poor.
5 Examples of Music Helping Impoverished Youth
- A group of Yazidi girls formed a choir to preserve their cultural identities after suffering through sex slavery. Yazidi was recently overrun by the Islamic State military, resulting in thousands of young girls being sold into slavery. One of these girls was Rainas Elias, who was taken by ISIS at the age of 14. Two years after her kidnapping, Elias is one of the 14 young women who formed a choir that performs traditional Yazidi songs as a means of coping with their past traumatic experiences. In early February, the girls took a trip abroad to perform at the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Since Yazidi music is not traditionally written or recorded, British violinist Michael Bochmann has been working with the choir. They are recording the songs, which are then archived in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This work helps preserve an important piece of Yazidi culture while simultaneously providing a healing experience to the girls involved.
- “Fresh Kid” is an 8-year-old rapper from Uganda who sings about his family’s struggles with poverty. His real name is Patrick Ssenyonjo and he began hearing songs on the radio at a very young age and could immediately memorize and repeat them. Soon, Fresh Kid was performing for his local community, rapping about struggles that he, his friends and his family face. Uganda’s lack of electricity and poor transportation standards are two primary causes behind the nation’s impoverished circumstances. Although the country has seen vast improvements in recent years, there are still many developments to be made. Fresh Kid’s music draws attention to this issue while his success provides hope to impoverished youth across the globe.
- Schools in Venezuela are teaching classical music to students as a means of transcending poverty. Venezuelan conductor Jose Antonio Abreu established the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela in 1996. Otherwise known as The System, the program educates students on how to read and perform classical music. The System provides students with an artistic outlet in a professional atmosphere, resulting in the development of discipline and passion that is often unattainable by impoverished youth. Students living in poverty have made up 70 percent of the program’s participants since its creation. The foundation has produced world-renowned talents such as Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and Edicson Ruiz, the youngest bass player to ever perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Venezuela continues to suffer from a collapsed economy and corrupt politics, with an unemployment rate of 44 percent. The System grants Venezuela’s poorest children the chance to rise above these issues while spreading an appreciation for classical music.
- The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) teaches traditional music to students. Half of these students come from poor backgrounds. The school instructs both Western and Afghan classical music as well as basic subjects like math and science. The school prides itself on embracing the education of Afghanistan’s less advantaged youth including girls, orphans and street-working vendors. One significant product of ANIM is Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra. Not only does the school provide a well-rounded curriculum, but its music-oriented focus promotes the resurgence of cultural factors that were once banned by Taliban rule. ANIM demonstrates the influence music has by bringing social change and emotional healing to impoverished youth.
- Ghetto Classics is a youth orchestra featuring more than 500 children from Korogocho. The orchestra is a result of the Art of Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished youth in Eastern Africa by integrating classical music studies into schools. The director of the Art of Music Foundation, Elizabeth Wamuni Njoroge, founded Ghetto Classics in 2008 after a local Catholic priest requested that the foundation start teaching classical music to the youth. Njoroge states that the community was skeptical of the idea at first, partially because of distrust in NGOs and partly because classical music is quite different than the hip-hop and reggae that locals are accustomed to. However, Korogocho soon warmed up to the idea, and Ghetto Classics is now one of the most valued and successful community projects to exist in Korogocho. Since its foundation, the orchestra has extended to 14 other schools in Eastern Africa. Ghetto Classics and similar programs help students to grasp core life values and provides a fresh outlook on life.
Music has the power to preserve generations of cultural value. It can also spark interest and motivation in the minds of impoverished youth. These stories demonstrate the potential music has to raise awareness for issues such as sex slavery and poverty. Since music is directly tied to heritage and tradition, it can bring about major social change without eliminating the cultural identity of a society. These five examples of how music helps impoverished youth serve as proof that something as simple as the beat of a drum can contribute to the fight against global poverty, one tap at a time.
– Harley Goebel