Music

The Why Behind PVD World Music: An interview with founder Chance Kinyange Boas

If you live in PVD, you might have seen Chance Kinyange Boas around town. He’s typically filming performers being showcased at a PVD World Music event, either at Machines with Magnets, at the Columbus Theatre, at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, at the Farm Fresh Farmers Market or at Long Live Beerworks (he’s everywhere!). If you’ve seen him, you’ve noticed that the events he and his PVD-based non-profit team curate shine a light on traditional music and art- mainly from Africa- but really from all over the world. The mission of the PVD World Music Institute is “to promote, celebrate and enrich the musical traditions and arts of African refugees and immigrants in Rhode Island for present and future generations.” After talking to Chance, I would add that PVD World Music’s calling is to create space for people to tell their stories in order for traditions to be unearthed, preserved and connected. To quote Chance, keeping tradition alive is a way of “keeping you.”  

Mayté: Tell me why PVD World Music and why in PVD? 

Chance: I came here in 2008, as a refugee from Tanzania. I grew up in a refugee camp, and then we got our refugee asylum to a random place, Rhode Island. This has been my home base ever since. In 2018, my aunt sent me an Inānga instrument. It’s a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) intangible heritage instrument. I was trying to figure out how to play it, tune it and keep it going, and realized that actually, there isn’t a lot of knowledge left in the community about this traditional instrument that used to be the national instrument of Burundi, which is where I come from. So, I start doing research, figuring out who’s around and who still remember it. And that’s when I just dive into a rabbit hole of black intangible musical heritages. From that point on I was like wow, it’s not just the Burundi Inānga instrument, a lot of the UNESCO intangible heritages are indigenous instruments, cultures are [close to being] extinct… I realized through the search and the finding of this instrument, the music and through reaching out to other folks for insight gave me a connection, a healing process that I never received when I first moved here as refugee. 

I came here and went straight to school, school, school, and after school, work, work, work- but it was never a process of [pausing], trying to see if you can get out all that traumatic experience off your chest, your brain and then move forward. Once I discovered the power of this traditional music, and really connecting to the roots, I realized there is a whole community of traditional artists here in RI, in the community where I live: let’s find them, seek them out, create a space- promote the music, celebrate the tradition and compensate artists. They can then take that knowledge, share it with the younger generation or the community in general. You can unearth the tradition, you conduct research, do film, music: allow the folks in the community to tell their own story, by creating a space that is very open, inclusive, and a welcoming environment. So that’s how PVD Word Music became what it is, it was mostly from being here for 14 years, receiving the tradition here.

M: How do you involve youth? 

C: I went to Bryant University… and I realized that learning English here at age 19- you have to immerse yourself in the culture. But there is a hidden agenda of immigrants or refugees or anybody else who comes here, it’s all assimilate, assimilate, assimilate. Then I thought- the younger kids, who are 17 now, from the refugee community, they don’t need to go through the assimilation process- the process is not true. There’s no one way of being American, you know? I feel like actually, what it means to be American is keeping your identity, keeping your heritage, keeping your roots, keeping you.

I want to tell the younger kids- “hey, here’s this space where we don’t really care about your hair, we don’t really care about how you identify yourself or not, we want you to come here, learn a skill and [support the production of events at PVD World Music].” We want to create jobs/internships for the youth in the refugee community so they can acquire professional skills (sound engineering, production, social media management). We want them to come and learn, allow them to experience music from their own culture and background- seeing somebody sing in Kilaguni, in Swahili- it’s a different form of cultural activism. It’s a platform that provide a healing mechanism for the new generation. But also, at the same time, create jobs and economic opportunity.  

M: How do you choose the performers that you showcase?

C: With the music selection we have a team, we have a program committee that meets to select artists. In the beginning, I was doing it myself, because it came as a passion for me when I realized that the music tradition for my culture was literally changing and wouldn’t be available for future generations… What that really means is that (in places like Tanzania, Burundi) traditional music and ritual ceremonies are not taking place anymore. Nobody is documenting these traditions before they disappear. You find yourself in a situation where the music tradition in this culture is so important, it’s the essence of who we are. It’s the equivalent of folk stories such as the Iliad by Homer; it’s supposed to be recited in a public square, it’s poetry, it’s literature, it also tells about the people and places, and this helps you form an identity. If you only have one copy and you set it on fire, then you’re burning a hole in those stories. That’s the challenge I am trying to solve- capturing these African traditions and creating a digital archive where the younger generation who might not be interested in it today, but 10 or 30 years later, they might find out more about themselves. They might say- “What is Burundi?” People think it’s a thing of the past but no, for us, this is the story of today.

M: It’s giving people access to their history.

C: Absolutely! All of this is to kind of remind people that we’re a community… the deeper you go in music the more you find that we all relate, you know. [Different folk music] is inspired by the same traditions and similar struggles. 

Want to learn more from the breath of knowledge embedded in the work of PVD World Music and/or donate? Go to:

pvdworldmusic.com
Also, save September 14th through 18th on your calendar for the Third Annual African Film and Arts Festival! 

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