"I focus on oral tradition, mostly call-and-response type learning. It's a bit like ear training. The majority of my classes are African music. I'll introduce the rhythms or the songs, and they have to learn them by ear. After we do that for a while we work on how it gets translated into Western notation. It's very informal, something like an apprenticeship."
"Playing music is all about making a heartfelt connection. I couldn't tell you how many students just play—and good ones, too—but they have a hard time making a connection. I was like that, too, for a long time. African music forces you to make a connection. You can't even start playing without it—there's no conductor, there's no paper. I need to hear your part for me to come in. It's almost like a puzzle. Everything fits together nicely."
"I've taken Berklee students to Africa every year for 10 years. They prepare for it the whole year. When I was 25 I did a master's at the University of Ghana, and it radically changed my life. My first week in Africa, I couldn't even play a simple part. I was shocked. I was a Berklee graduate, I could read complicated music, but I couldn't hear how they played music with so much emotion. I had a hard time making a connection. So this old guy kept tapping me on the shoulder when I'd go off beat. For like two hours this guy—I didn't know who he was, he didn't speak English—he just kept helping me. Finally after two hours I got it, and I was so excited. I turned around and he was gone. I never found out who he was."
"In this culture generally, we compose and perform music on a stage. But in Africa that's very rare. If you were going to put a new floor in your kitchen everyone would come drum for you and sing. I saw these guys roofing a house and singing and roofing in rhythm. Music is participatory. Music makes life a little easier. That concept really hit home for me. I think giving away music and playing for people with the right attitude is important. It helps with your ego."