08/28/06 — Musician learns new styles, new perspective in Africa

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Musician learns new styles, new perspective in Africa

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 28, 2006 1:49 PM

For music student Nathan Lean, a summer trip to Morocco soldified his desire not only to pursue a music career, but to work for global understanding as well.

Lean, a graduate of Eastern Wayne High School, and now a senior at East Carolina University, received the college's first Global Understanding scholarship to study and perform in Morocco this summer. The award covered six weeks, but Lean extended it himself for two more weeks and is planning to return in December.

"When I came back, I had such withdrawal," he said. "Send me to Morocco once, it's the spark that lights the fire. It makes you want to go back."

The experience evoked a hunger, he said, "to do as much as you can, and I want to go back and share what I love with as many people as possible, as often as possible,"

The trip was initially designed as an opportunity for Lean to do research on the musical culture of Morocco with some performances included along the way. That did happen, he said, with several concerts scheduled through the U.S. Embassy as well as a chance to play at the Casablanca World Music Festival.

"I got to play with Gawa Fusion, a popular Moroccan Gnawa band," he said. Their genre is a North African form of "trance music," which Lean explained as a form of religious music designed to connect listeners and musicians with the high form of worship.

More than entertaining a crowd, Lean said it was a study in how music brings people together.

"No matter what kind of differences we had, we were able to share our love of music with 15,000 people. It's not like we had this relationship of rehearsing every day. We came together, rehearsed for several hours in an afternoon, played together that night," he said.

He was also able to lead a workshop and perform at Khemmiset Conservatory of Music, located just outside of Rabat, where Lean lived while in Morocco.

"It was just an extremely poor area. The conservatory is what this town has going for it. It gives these kids that may not have an opportunity for much else to express themselves through music, and builds their self-esteem and confidence," he said.

Lean said he learned enough French to be able to communicate, and if he ran into a problem, he relied on a translator.

Music proved to be a universal language, he added.

"Music is prevalent everywhere. It just exists everywhere, in everything," he said. And in Moroccan culture, most music is related to spirituality.

When he went to the World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, attended by 30,000, it featured a blending of music from a number of different cultures, he said.

"Christian, Islam, Judaism and Sufism -- musicians from all over the world each brought something different to the table," Lean said. "I found that the people of Islam are more accepting of other religions and the culture associated with them. I think that may be the reason why there are so many people represented at this festival."

Because of his musical collaborations, Lean said he came away with a newfound appreciation for North African music.

"It's sparked a desire in me to continue on the path of promoting global understanding because even though Morocco's on a different continent, it's a very small world," he said.

That will perhaps serve as his greatest souvenir of the trip.

"I have a newfound appreciation for people that are different than I am. Whether that difference be religion, nationality, you know, whether those differences be musically," he said it all boils down to more than creating harmony on a musical scale.

"It's cultural harmony. If I could go back and answer what I would take away, it would be the need to create more harmony musically and culturally."

When he completes his studies at ECU, he said he would like to pursue a graduate degree in international studies.

"I would like to travel around the world and use music to promote cultural empathy," he said. "Whatever job that means, I don't really know, but that's the goal for me."

As a Christian, Lean said he is appreciative of his talent as being a gift from God, one he wants to use wisely.

"It's kind of like the famous sculpture Michaelangelo. Once he was saying about his numerous sculptures that to him the sculptures were already there; it was just his responsibility to chip away the rock and find them," he said.

"Music exists in every one of us. Music was already here," he said, pointing to his heart. "I'm just blessed that I have the responsibility to share it with people. I have got the rest of my life to do this. It's a lot to look forward to. I was lying on a mattress in the middle of the Sahara Desert, thinking how wonderful it is to be able to do this."