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Cultivating Creative Crossroads: Kasheshi Makena and EDUCase Camp’s Transformative Journey in Global Artistic Collaboration

Homa, a master’s student in Directing and a student ambassador, interviewed the Tanzanian-born musician Kasheshi Makena during the EDUCase camp.

An artistic adventure that spanned continents, the EDUCase Camp united Finland, Tanzania, and Mozambique in a dynamic joint course. This initiative aimed to bridge artistic practices between these diverse regions. 

The camp’s triumph highlighted the potency of global partnerships in creativity. It showcased how collective artistic exploration can transcend borders and foster mutual understanding. 

This is the second interview with one of the teachers in this course.

Kasheshi Makena photographed at the EDUCase Finland camp in Kallio-Kuninkala (photo: David Ndosi)

Could you first introduce yourself? 

I’m Kasheshi Makena, a music educator, songwriter, composer, East African dance teacher, and I lead two of my own bands. I also perform with other bands. If you ask me about my primary instrument, I’d say it’s my voice, although I also play various traditional and modern instruments. 

Can you tell us about your journey from Tanzania to Finland? What inspired you to come to Finland, and how has the experience shaped your musical career? 

My voyage from Tanzania to Finland was sparked by love. I found myself establishing a new home in Finland back in 2012, immediately after completing my bachelor’s degree in music education.  

So, what I can say that inspired me to come here, I guess you might have a clue already. It’s love. My musical journey has taken numerous paths, rooted in the rich traditions of Tanzanian music and dance. As I transitioned from Tanzania to Finland, I had the privilege of studying under a diverse array of musicians, each with their own unique musical backgrounds. This fusion of cultures and influences has fundamentally shaped the evolution of my musical expression. 

During my time as a student exchange in Denmark, I had the opportunity to collaborate and perform with teachers. Consequently, my musical style has undergone a notable transformation. My compositions and songwriting have evolved, drawing inspiration from the myriad experiences I’ve accumulated along this voyage. In essence, my music now bears the indelible mark of my journey’s myriad influences. In simple terms, my diverse experiences have become the core of my music and performances.  

As a teacher at Uniarts Helsinki, what aspects of Tanzanian music and culture do you incorporate into your teaching? How do you create a bridge between Tanzanian and Finnish musical traditions? 

As a teacher at Uniarts Helsinki, I integrate various aspects of Tanzanian music and culture into my teaching. I leverage informal methods of delivering information, which I consider one of my strengths. Growing up in Tanzania, learning involved observation, imitation, repetition, and gradual refinement—a process often referred to as ‘inculturation,’ particularly in artistic subjects. This approach contrasts with the sequential instructional methods commonly used. For instance, when learning from masters, they might teach one way today and a slightly different approach tomorrow, but with the same core concepts from the previous lesson. It’s a matter of teaching through memory, experience, and understanding rather than rigidly following a predefined series of instructions. Questions are welcomed, but the emphasis is on comprehension through doing. 

When teaching at Uniarts, I employ the methods I’ve described, occasionally incorporating written aids if necessary. While teaching new drumming techniques or rhythm patterns from traditional dances, I avoid explicitly labelling each element. Instead, I guide students through imitation, repetition, observation, and experimentation, allowing them to explore and internalize the concepts without immediately revealing specific details.  

Creating a connection between Tanzanian and Finnish music traditions is a bit tough, but there are some ways. Traditional music has similarities, and technology is changing music everywhere. In Western culture, people are often influenced by media. So, in a sense, a bridge is forming naturally. 

In my teaching, I aim for a balanced 50-50 approach when considering Tanzanian and Finnish traditions in music. I encourage students to explore both sides equally. This helps them see what’s unique in each tradition and where they might overlap. It’s like building a bridge step by step between these two musical worlds. 

Could you share some details about the collaborative course between Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uniarts Helsinki? (EDUCase). What are the objectives of the course, and what role do you play in its implementation? 

This project centres around establishing a platform for intercultural dialogue and collaborative efforts within the framework of interdisciplinary arts. It brings together a diverse group comprising actors, theatre makers, dancers, visual artists, musicians, art managers, and researchers from Tanzania, Mozambique, and Finland. These objectives form the core focus of this educational endeavour. My role within this project takes on the responsibilities of a facilitator and teacher. The project is structured with various groups aligned with the mentioned art forms. As a teacher, I actively participate and guide the groups I’m assigned to. Instead of imposing directions, the project emphasizes a student-led approach. Students collectively deliberate on their exploration goals, fostering teamwork. In this context, my role involves sharing perspectives and facilitating discussions. For instance, I’ve moderated conversations on decolonization and teaching methodologies employed in Tanzanian and Mozambican music and arts education. 

My involvement extends beyond facilitation. I occasionally participate in performances and play musical instruments to inspire students. If a specific instrument is required and no one else can play it, I’m eager to step in. This collaboration is mutually rewarding, enabling shared creativity. Another crucial role I assume is acting as a bridge between Uniarts Helsinki and Tanzanian institutions like Bagamoyo College of Arts, which has now transitioned to Kasuba, meaning Tasia, Sanaa, and Tamadon. I serve as a liaison, ensuring effective communication and collaboration between these entities. Additionally, the project strives to include the diaspora living in Finland, offering them an opportunity to share their talents within the academic framework of Uniarts Helsinki. This inclusivity extends to Tanzanians, Mozambicans, and individuals from non-academic backgrounds, with the aim of integrating diverse perspectives. 

What are the main challenges you face when collaborating with musicians from different cultural backgrounds? How do you overcome these challenges and foster a sense of unity and creativity within the collaborative project?  

Collaborating with musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds presents several challenges. In my own cultural context, making music is an organic process. We gather to play without a set performance goal, fostering a sense of spontaneity and shared experience. However, upon moving here, I encountered a different approach. Collaborations often revolve around specific gigs or events, driven by the specialized roles and professional nature of the musicians involved. While this approach has its merits, it can sometimes hinder the deep connections formed through extended periods of shared play. 

One of the challenges lies in establishing a coherent sense of rhythm and time signatures. For me, playing music is like engaging in a conversation, where intuition guides the flow rather than rigid adherence to notations. This viewpoint may differ from that of musicians from European or Finnish backgrounds, who might emphasize specific styles and genres. 

To overcome these challenges and nurture a sense of unity and creativity within collaborative projects, I emphasize the value of open communication and mutual understanding. I acknowledge my strengths while being receptive to different perspectives. Balancing these elements helps create an environment where everyone’s musical identity can thrive. I view playing music as a dynamic exchange, allowing for improvisation and adaptation rather than strict adherence to predefined compositions. By sharing this perspective, I encourage fellow musicians to explore new avenues of creativity and contribute their unique voices to the collaborative process. In this endeavour, I avoid promoting a single approach as the best, recognizing the richness of diverse cultural backgrounds. Striving for a balanced partnership ensures that each musician’s strengths contribute to the project’s collective success. By fostering a shared sense of ownership and equal contribution, we create an atmosphere where creativity can flourish. 

In certain cases, if a collaboration proves unviable due to differences in behaviour or dynamics, I consider the option of gracefully stepping back. This choice prioritizes a harmonious outcome while respecting the integrity of both the project and the individuals involved. 

In summary, effective collaboration with musicians from various cultural backgrounds requires an open-minded and adaptable approach. By valuing diverse perspectives, promoting equal partnership, and fostering open communication, it becomes possible to overcome challenges and cultivate a unified and creatively vibrant collaborative project. 

How do you think this collaborative course will benefit both Tanzanian and Finnish musicians? What unique perspectives or skills do you hope the participants will gain from this experience? 

This collaboration will be helpful for both Tanzanian and Finnish musicians. They will gain exposure and exchange ideas through student and teacher interactions between the two countries. This will create a balanced flow of knowledge. When Tanzanian students study here, they will bring back valuable insights to their home country. Also, this collaboration involves Mozambique, opening doors for Tanzanian and Mozambican artists to work together. 

The participants will learn more than just art – they will develop important life skills. Being good at their craft is important, but being able to get along with others and communicate effectively is equally vital. This collaboration will teach them how to be understanding and adapt to different perspectives. Collaboration with diverse backgrounds requires strong determination and the ability to adjust. I hope the participants will grasp this approach, where both sides learn from each other and work together equally. 

Can you share any memorable experiences or moments during your time at Uniarts Helsinki? Is there a particular project or performance that stands out to you? 

Certainly! I have a few special memories from my time at Uniarts Helsinki. First, I vividly remember the audition process. Despite the usual nervousness, I found the experience enjoyable. Playing alongside the hosted band and fellow examinees felt more like a performance for an audience rather than a judgment, which was quite refreshing. It gave me a positive outlook on studying there. 

Another significant memory was during my final examination. Although I didn’t promote the event extensively, it turned out to be a surprising success. The sold-out gig was an astonishing experience, especially considering that I wasn’t widely known at the Academy or in Finland. Performing in front of such a large and engaged audience was something I hadn’t encountered before. Joining the vocal group AITO Collective was yet another transformative experience. The group focused on improvisation, where we’d take the stage without any predetermined songs. This pushed me creatively and helped me express myself through my voice in unique ways. Being a part of this group contributed significantly to my musical growth. 

While it’s hard to pinpoint a single standout moment, each experience and opportunity I had at Uniarts Helsinki contributed to my development as a musician. It’s similar to being asked about a favourite song – the impact of each moment is unique and collectively they shape my journey. 

What advice would you give to aspiring Tanzanian musicians who are looking to explore opportunities abroad, similar to your own journey? What key skills or qualities do you believe are important for success in the international music scene? 

If they want to go abroad to learn and get better, being open-minded that a is key. It means sharing and trying new things, and not just receiving, but giving too. Also, speaking up is crucial. Expressing feelings and thoughts openly builds trust, preventing problems from getting worse. 

Back home in Tanzania, there’s a chance to grow artistically before going abroad. This way, you have a head start when you perform internationally. Being organized is vital for success globally, and using social media well is a must.  

However, when someone comes from a place like Tanzania, they might already have a presence and recognition there. Coming to a new country means starting fresh, and everything could feel unfamiliar. This is something I can definitely relate to. 

Creating something new and finding a fresh audience comes with its own set of challenges. As I reflect on my own musical journey, I recognize that my sound might not perfectly align with traditional Tanzanian musician. Although I draw inspiration from Tanzanian and African rhythms, my music incorporates elements of Afrobeat, funk, and improvisation. Describing my genre is often a challenge because it doesn’t neatly fit into predefined categories. 

In addition, when performing abroad, be yourself and share your unique sound. It’s good to fit in, but staying true to your style can also make you stand out. For success, promote your music everywhere, and make use of different platforms. In essence, it’s about embracing the journey of self-discovery while also navigating the global music landscape. Finding that sweet spot between familiarity and innovation can set you on a path to international success. It’s a process of embracing your uniqueness and sharing it confidently with the world. 

Thank you for your time and for sharing your insights. 

Thank you, I hope I have answered all your questions.  

Life of an art student

In this blog, Uniarts Helsinki students share their experiences as art students from different academies and perspectives, in their own words. If you want to learn even more regarding studying and student life in Uniarts and Helsinki, you can ask directly from our student ambassadors.

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