Full Scholarships Awarded to Musicians from Kenya and South Africa

Wambura Mitaru and Witness Matlou are among eight students currently attending Berklee through the Africa Scholars Program.
February 15, 2011

Singing didn't come easily for Wambura Mitaru. Growing up in rural Kenya where singing was an everyday part of life, Mitaru recalls being in awe of her sisters' voices—she herself was tone-deaf. During a blackout at school one day, students began singing to entertain themselves and Mitaru discovered that everything had changed. "After what seemed like the longest four minutes of my life I expected jeering and booing, but instead heard applause. It was as if I was in a dream. This was definitely a miracle—I could sing," she says.

In high school, Mitaru earned awards for her singing. A teacher encouraged her to study music but her family was discouraging. "In Kenya, music is frowned upon by professionals, and treated mostly as a hobby," she says. Mitaru persisted, studying music while dreaming of also becoming a teacher. She is now realizing that dream, having entered Berklee this semester on a full scholarship through the Africa Scholars Program. Mitaru plans to pursue a master's degree after Berklee "so that I may empower by teaching those who may never make it to Berklee," she says. "I also hope to change the policies in my country at the government level for music standards, so that a mediocre education is a thing of the past."

"We were really impressed with her natural talent and musical instincts. There was a sincerity to her performance that highlighted her passion for learning," says Ron Savage, chair of the Ensemble Department, who headed the team that auditioned Mitaru in Kenya. "She also performed in her tribal language and brings her distinctive musical and cultural experiences, which only serve to give the community at large a stronger global perspective."

Berklee's Africa Scholars Program was designed to provide exceptional African musicians with the opportunity to study at Berklee. The initiative, instituted by Berklee president Roger H. Brown, has awarded $2.3 million in scholarships since 2008. In addition to many partial-tuition and full-tuition awards, the program also awards a full scholarship annually covering full tuition and room and board for four years of study at Berklee.

In addition to Mitaru, Berklee recently welcomed pianist Kabelo Witness Matlou, from South Africa, as a full scholar.

Matlou grew up in the township of Tembisa. "We do not have a lot of educated and successful people whom we can look up to as role models," he says. Matlou, a jazz pianist, is thankful to have had music to keep him out of trouble. While studying at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, he received a scholarship to study abroad anywhere in the world. The obvious choice for the jazz enthusiast was the United States—where jazz originated. Matlou attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he performed with a jazz trio and had the opportunity to tour Europe with a school group.

Matlou sees the scholarship as more than an education opportunity. "It's an honor to know I have been trusted and selected to follow in the footsteps of a long list of distinguished alumni, great musicians, and great artists," he says. "Not only is it a special thrill to me but also good news to Africa." Matlou is majoring in jazz composition, and shares Mitaru's goal of imparting his Berklee knowledge to those back home and around the world. He says, "With my background in South African culture and music, I hope to become an innovator and help make a difference in the lives of other talented, young, aspiring individuals."

"Through the audition and interview process, Witness distinguished himself as a fine, budding pianist with excellent potential for success at Berklee. The original compositions he submitted for review also displayed his potential as an aspiring composer," says Tod Oliviere, director of scholarships and student employment. Matlou has already come full circle, as he's now working as a student employee in the scholarships office through which he was admitted, offering advice to aspiring students who were once in his position.

Berklee held audition and interview events in Nairobi, Kenya in the summer of 2010, and awarded 11 scholarships as a result. Matlou and Mitaru are among eight students currently attending the college through the Africa Scholars Program. The others are Victor "Blue" Dogah from Ghana; Matthew Field from South Africa; Albino Mbie from Mozambique; and Kayode Ajayi, Moses Agada, and Michael Oloyede from Nigeria.