Ghetto Classics, the orchestra that changes life in the slum

Ghetto Classics, l'orchestre qui change la vie du bidonville
Ghetto Classics is the flagship project of the Art of Music Foundation, established in 2007. It is a music programme launched in one of Kenya's largest slums, near Nairobi, that involves more than 1,500 young people from the area.

Changing young lives through music

Korogocho, north-east of Nairobi, is one of the largest slums in Kenya. More than 200,000 people live there in extreme poverty, and many children face school drop-out and violence.

It was in this area that Elizabeth Njoroge launched the Ghetto Classics project in 2009, offering young people the opportunity to study music and play in an orchestra.

Through the discipline of instrumental practice, the children learn many skills and receive alternative income opportunities and social support, which benefits their families and the community. Some of them are then hired by Ghetto Classics as teachers, others even join professional orchestras.

In addition to the obvious musical benefits, the children who attend the programme do better overall at school and become moral references for other young people in the neighbourhood.

“When they play, they can escape and for a while they are away from the darkness that surrounds them when they go home. I have seen firsthand how music can change somebody, can give them hope.” says Elisabeth Njoroge.

Based on its success, the programme has been expanded to 10 satellite areas around Nairobi, Kiambu and Mombasa, and now benefits more than 1,500 children.


The place of wind instruments

Brussels-based jazz saxophonist Toine Thys is very active in Africa. Involved in several projects aimed at developing musical practice, he himself co-founded in 2015 a school in Burkina Faso with trumpeter Laurent Blondiau: Les Ventistes du Faso.

“We have toured Burkina Faso several times, where we spontaneously organised trumpet and saxophone workshops because people all wanted to play them! There is a cruel lack of wind instruments there, the Ventistes are poorly equipped, isolated and lacking in knowledge. So we set up a school based on local demand."

In 2019, he travelled to Nairobi to play in a festival organised in partnership with Ghetto Classics. He took the opportunity to visit the school set up by Elisabeth Njoroge; it was a revelation. The musician then joined the adventure himself.

“As soon as you enter this building, you feel a benevolence, a real thirst to learn and to spend time together in a peaceful space. It's also a very structured school, with a square organisation and discipline. Not all students become professional musicians, of course, but more of them go on to university, thanks to the practice of classical music and the balance and confidence it gives them.”

The Ghetto Classics Orchestra has a strong impact on the life of the slum and helps to broaden the horizons of these young people. The ensemble is becoming increasingly famous: it has already performed for Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, Pope Francis and Barack Obama.


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