African Music Institute to Open

Akon addresses students in Gabo, Africa

Akon (right) addresses music students in Libreville, Gabon, in January, as part of Berklee’s joint venture in the African Music Institute.

Berklee College of Music will in September welcome the first class of students to the African Music Institute in Gabon. The new educational facility will instruct in pan-African music studies, will feature a state-of-the-art recording studio for student projects and collaborations with visiting artists, study and rehearsal spaces, an auditorium and concert hall, a museum documenting the history of West African music, and a dance studio.

The project has been in the works for three years, a result of an agreement between Berklee College president Roger H. Brown and His Excellency Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of the Gabonese Republic. Ground-breaking was held in January and included an opportunity for students from 20 African nations to explore Berklee-style classes at no cost. The program was held at the nearby American International School in Libreville as construction continued at the AMI.

“Our mission statement acknowledges the unique role of the African cultural diaspora in the major musical styles underlying our curriculum, including jazz, blues, R&B, rock, gospel, Latin, and hip-hop,” Brown said. “More students coming to Boston from Africa, and with this new school we’ll have a direct line right to the source.”

Participating in the Berklee on the Road session that opened the official musical dialogue between Gabon and Berklee: hip-hop artist and songwriter/producer Akon, Afrobeat sensation Davido and prominent entertainment attorney and Berklee board member Joel Katz. While both Akon and Davido are currently US-based, Akon hails from Senegal and Davido (David Adedeji Adeleke) from Nigeria. The trio offered instruction as part of the Berklee on the Road program led by academic director Alain Mallet, associate professor in Berklee’s Ensemble Department.

The AMI joins Berklee’s International Network (BIN) of 19 partner institutions in 18 countries that identify and prepare students with extraordinary musicianship and musical ideas for matriculation at Berklee. Students at the AMI may study the first two years of the Berklee curriculum in Libreville, and then transfer to Boston with all of their earned credits. This makes a college degree more affordable for African students, and helps Berklee attract more African musicians.

The relationship between Berklee and Gabon began with Berklee alumnus Frederik Gassita, one of the country’s most prominent musicians, who had long dreamed of providing a Berklee-style education in African for local musicians. Gassita was among the MOU’s signees, who also included Pacôme Moubelet Boubeya, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Gabon, and Larry Simpson, Berklee’s senior vice president for academic affairs/ provost.

The AMI will focus on contemporary popular music, traditional African music, and African dance for 300 students, and create a path for students to eventually study at Berklee’s Boston campus.

Roger Brown, Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba and students.

Berklee College of Music president Roger H. Brown met with His Excellency Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of the Gabonese Republic, in 2015, entering into an agreement for the African Music Institute for pan-African music studies. (Photo: Michael Spencer)

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