Making music, changing lives

Making music, changing lives


When we think of education, we usually find ourselves thinking about equations, test tubes, and history books, although what we really need to start thinking about is music. Across cultures, continents, generations, and societies, music not only empowers and inspires individuals, but also preserves and transmits cultural tradition.

For Alou Kamissoko, who studies at the Kirina Music School in Mali, school is about learning to play a 21 stringed instrument called the kora, and dancing, in addition to typical lessons like French, English, Math, and Science.

Alou is from a family of griots. Part of the strong oral history tradition in West Africa, griots are the travelling historians, storytellers, poets or musicians who are traditionally the transmitters of tribal stories and geneaologies. Through his music classes, Alou has learned a lot about his roots and the traditional music that binds them.

According to a 2014 study, “musicians’ brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful. The same traits have also been found among world-class athletes, top-level managers, and individuals who practice transcendental meditation.”

With research like this and the importance of music in any culture, it’s no wonder organizations like the Playing for Change Foundation are making a difference in communities around the world.


Playing For Change started off with an idea: the collaboration of many artists from around the world to create a song showcasing their myriad music styles. After producing a compelling rendition of “Stand by me” that caught the world’s attention, they put together the Playing For Change Band to continue their collaborations.

Following the success of the music videos, they started a nonprofit in 2007, the Playing For Change Foundation, which opened up music schools where these artists lived. Since their humble beginnings in 2007, the foundation now works in 12 schools in 9 countries and has provided education to more than 1,000 students. Apart from a held belief that music and the arts are vital to a child’s education, PFCF has developed a reputation for being an access point for various forms of aid, including clean water, electricity, and medical supplies. Together they provide the resources for children and their communities to thrive.


Alou’s home of Kirina, a griot village 25 miles south of Bamako, the Malian Capital, has been honing its unique musical and cultural heritage for more than 700 years. PFCF, through connections with Mahamadou Diabaté–brother of Grammy Award-winning Kora player Toumani Diabaté–and a wonderful musician in his own right, decided to build a school in Kirina in order to preserve and share this rich cultural heritage and musical tradition.

They spoke with village elders and determined the location for their third school on the continent, keen to involve everyone from Kirina in the building process. L’Ecole de Musique de Kirina opened its doors in October of 2010, and now offers classes in kora, djembe, balafon, dance, and tama (talking drum). Apart from music classes, they also teach French and English language classes, as well as an “evening class” program for teachers from the public school to come and receive extra English, French, and science lessons.


According to Alou, “the music school has given us a greater importance.” Kancou, another student in Alou’s class, agrees. She enjoys her music classes because historically, girls haven’t had the same opportunity to learn music and dance as the boys do. Kancou’s classes have taught her not only music, but how to work together with others, gaining the encouragement of her friends and family. Her goal is to “be educated to find a good job”. “Through music, I learned I am intelligent.”

A way of expression, a way of culture, a way of life. Music is making big impacts in communities close and far from home. How do you incorporate music in your life?



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