Guest Blogger Tyné Freeman - Blog #1: Trading Homework for Harmonies

Hello all! Tyné here. I’m so excited to be writing for Hope Sings, and grateful to Beth Blatt for extending the invitation.

Tyné  (in red) with girls from the Global Village Project

Tyné (in red) with girls from the Global Village Project

Just to provide a bit of background: I am a singer/songwriter and Senior Fellow at Dartmouth College. As a Fellow, I am pursuing an independent project throughout my senior year. Since 1929, Dartmouth has provided this opportunity for students to pursue endeavors that extend beyond the traditional classroom setting.

For my project, I am engaging in cross-cultural musical collaborations, composing songs with artists across the African continent. I’ll record the songs professionally with a band in Boston. Then, each artist will record their vocal part remotely, from whatever country they are in. They will send the audio over, and I’ll work with an engineer in Boston to piece everything together.

Finally, it will be released as a full-length album in 2017. The album will feature a variety of artists, genres, and musical traditions. It will be accompanied by an ethnography (approximately 25,000 words), which will explore the process of intercultural collaboration through a more academic lens. All that in nine months!

Tyné  (far left) with the Jabulani African Chorus, which she directed at Dartmouth

Tyné (far left) with the Jabulani African Chorus, which she directed at Dartmouth

The idea initially emerged during my freshman spring. I had developed some wonderful cross-cultural friendships on campus throughout the year, and wondered if I could somehow blend that with my love for music. In the spring of 2014, I enrolled in a course called Caribbean Lyric and Literature, and my creative wheels began to spin. In the course, we explored the societal impact of Reggae song lyrics, in Jamaica and beyond. I began to consider the role of music in different cultures, and the ways it can bring people together -- themes that would eventually birth this endeavor.

Over the next two years, I continued to fantasize about the possibilities of this idea as I completed other relevant classes, studied abroad, recorded an album, and toured Cuba as vocalist with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

A pivotal moment in the project’s development occurred when I visited Nairobi, Kenya last fall. I attended an outdoor performance featuring local artists, right in the center of the city. I recall watching as a young man with freeform dreadlocks and an acoustic guitar prepared to sing. He strummed a few bars then began: “I remember when we used to sit / in a government yard in Trenchtown.” My ears perked up as I recognized the lyrics to a Bob Marley song, “No Woman, No Cry.” My mind flashed back to a lyric study we did of this particular song in the course I mentioned earlier. I recalled sitting in class, many months ago, many miles away. As I sang along to the words of Marley, I felt an inherent familiarity and connection.

Next, a spoken word artist took the stage, and launched into an energized piece dealing with politics in Kenya and critiquing the current regime. His piece interwove English and Swahili, a technique the artist Peddo Brian would later explain to me as Sheng. Sheng is popular amongst millennials in Nairobi, and is typically incorporated in music, movies, and other popular media. I loved it.

After the show, I introduced myself briefly to Peddo. Two weeks later, out of the blue, he sent me a half-written song, with lyrics in Swahili and Luo. “Write the other half!” he urged me. And I did.

I was so inspired by Peddo’s initiative and talent, I decided to pursue more such cross-cultural collaborations and reach out to other artists, just as he had reached out to me. When I returned to campus as a junior, my experiences abroad formed the basis for a concrete project concept which would involve international artists representing 7 different countries: Ghana, Kenya, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.

Tyné  singing with a band in Ghana.

Tyné singing with a band in Ghana.

I proposed the idea to the College, under the advisorship of Professor Ted Levin, an internationally-renowned ethnomusicologist at Dartmouth.

I was elated to receive a letter a couple months later, notifying me that I had been selected as one of five Senior Fellows.

Currently, the artists and I are in the beginning stages of the songwriting process. Over the past month, we have been collaborating by exchanging ideas virtually, which is both exciting and unpredictable. The process is rather fluid so far -- we send over audio files containing ideas in rough draft form, elaborate upon them, and then send back what we come up with. I am loving getting to know each artist on a personal level. Our conversation topics have ranged from politics to love, from cultural identity to Myers Briggs personality types. It has been a revealing experience already, allowing exposure to different perspectives and experiences - and I’m also learning a lot about myself.

For me, this project is bigger than just these songs. I want to examine the ways music can facilitate and sustain relationships, and see how these interactions extend beyond music. I want to discover if meeting through music making can prompt meaningful interactions that transcend cultural and linguistic differences. I am interested in seeing how my own worldview evolves, and am eager to discover what value I find in building a cross-cultural musical network.

I am three weeks into senior year, and currently preparing for the first full band rehearsal in Boston this upcoming weekend. There’s so much more to come over the next nine months, as the project continues to unfold, and as graduation nears. I am experiencing a flurry of emotions…

It’s a big project, and it’s a bit overwhelming at times, as I try to navigate the typical senior year anxieties -- securing a job or a spot in grad school, etc. In any case, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to dedicate my final year to this project. I’m just taking it one day at a time, learning something new each step of the way. I welcome you all to come along with me on this journey! It’s sure to be an unforgettable year.

Tyné Freeman has performed at the Kennedy Center, composed for the Grammy Foundation, and been featured in Seventeen Magazine. She has released several EPs, and most recently recorded a charity album in support of the Global Village Project, which runs a school in Georgia for teenage refugee girls; she composed a song for the girls to sing and featured their voices on the record.