The scholarships grew out of a trip Berklee assistant professor Matt Jenson made to Ghana to speak at the Africa Unite Symposium in 2006. Produced by the Rita Marley Foundation, the symposium was part of Bob Marley’s 61st birthday celebration. Jenson, known for his popular performance studies class The Music and Life of Bob Marley, shared his idea for a musical and cultural exchange with Berklee President Roger Brown. He quickly secured scholarship funds from the college for room, board, and tuition for four Ghanaian musicians to study at Berklee that would not otherwise be able to attend.
Jenson auditioned 18 local musicians while he was in Ghana for the symposium. Attending this summer are vocalist Josephine Peamka, 25, and drummer Ayiku Reginald Senam, 27. Senam’s friend Martin Agbogah was the one who first told him about the opportunity. Senam, Agbogah, Victor Dey, and another friend, who had honed their skills playing together at the Jazz Tone nightclub in Accra, all auditioned for the scholarships. Ultimately, only Senam and Dey - who studied at Berklee in 2006 - were awarded scholarships. Says Jenson, “It was a very difficult decision, very tough. They were all really good players.”
Ayiku Reginald Senam
Peamka is a vocalist who also plays piano, guitar, and violin. She recently earned a music degree from the University of Ghana, where she studied pop, African, classical, choral, and traditional Ghanaian music. A friend told her about the Berklee audition and she rushed down to the studio where it was being held, but found she was too late and had missed the audition. They took her CDs anyway, and told her to come back later. She aced the audition. She recalls, “Matt Jenson told me my voice is awesome.” The next day, she was thrilled to learn that she had been awarded the scholarship.
Peamka has one brother and five sisters, one of whom lent her the money for the plane ticket. She deferred the scholarship, opting to travel to the U.S. last summer on a work exchange program in South Dakota, where she worked at a KOA Campground. Afterward, she visited friends and family in Minnesota for a month. Says Peamka, “ South Dakota was very cold and windy, but I was prepared. Minnesota was really hot and stifling. You couldn’t breathe. It was hotter there in the summer than in Ghana!”
Although Peamka has studied music formally, studying at Berklee is quite a different experience. She says, “The technology is much better here. It’s a big advantage. It makes the learning easier. There are pianos everywhere. At home there was only one piano, and you had to buy your own instruments.” Another advantage, says Senam, “The way teachers teach here, they try to make sure you understand. In Ghana, you don’t get the individual attention. They don’t have time to explain it.”
Senam loved music from an early age. Without a drum set, though, his main outlet to express that passion was banging on practically anything that came his way. He joked, “I had destroyed a lot of household items.” He soon connected with other musicians in church and became very dedicated, training five to six hours a day and playing in the popular Ghanaian group Mega Star Band. After being awarded the scholarship, Senam played in churches and studio sessions to raise money for the airfare.
Unlike Peamka, this is Senam’s first time in the U.S. He admits being disoriented at first, but he is taking advantage of the learning opportunities and hopes to bring home knowledge of the culture, in addition to focusing on his main goals: learning to play jazz and swing, and learning to read music. Says Senam, “Learning to read music is very important. To play music here you can be good, but you have to know how to read. Reading will bring you the money.” He hopes to impart some of his knowledge on fellow musicians back home. He says, “It’s a big thing [to study at Berklee]. It gives me credibility. Everyone will learn from what I have learned.”
Says Jenson, “It gives me great pleasure to know that I’ve been a part of helping these passionate young musicians from a culture so different from my own realize their dreams! When I met Senam and Josephine, I was very impressed with their positive attitudes and their bright spirits. They had accomplished and endured a lot to get here. I know they will bring back to Ghana a world of experience to share with their friends, families, and especially other musicians in the community.”
Both Senam and Peamka will continue pursuing music after the Berklee program ends. Peamka will perform in church choirs, and join more performing groups, and plans to take more music classes. She is also a prolific songwriter who has over 50 compositions she wants to record, and hopes to open a recording studio in Accra. Senam will go to South Africa to record with gospel group the Pretoria Mass Choir, but first, he will spend some time in New York playing with gospel group Soul Winner.
Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music. For over 60 years, the college has evolved constantly to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business. With over a dozen performance and nonperformance majors, a diverse and talented student body representing over 70 countries, and a music industry “who’s who” of alumni, Berklee is the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today — and tomorrow.