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Clint Valladares is on a musical mission to the UAE

Clint Valladares is on a musical mission to the UAE

By Michael Gomes

Published: Thu 29 Mar 2018, 5:47 PM

Last updated: Sat 7 Apr 2018, 2:28 PM

It all started way back in 2013 when Boston's Berklee College of Music launched the India Exchange initiative, a programme that brought performances, masterclasses and residencies by top Indian artistes including A.R. Rahman, Shankar Mahadevan, Shreya Ghoshal, Clinton Cerejo, Vijay Prakash, and others to the prestigious college. Now, Clint Valladares, who is the managing director and co-founder of this initiative, is looking to extend the exchange programme to the UAE. He is also seeking to create a neutral ground or stage for music in the UAE, which he says, will see artistes from Pakistan, India and the UAE collaborate for masterclasses and concerts.
Clint, who was in town last month, had more than one reason for a stopover in Dubai (en route to the US). He wanted to explore the possibilities of introducing the Berklee programme, and also wanted to check out the Dubai Jazz Festival. "A Berklee alumni was performing with Ricky Martin and I wanted to attend the concert," Clint said.
Besides the initiative, Berklee College is also looking to conduct the Berklee Tandon Global Clinics in the UAE. "We have plans to introduce the concept of music therapy and the science behind it. We were hosted by the Neurology Foundation in Mumbai, the leading coalition of advancement in neuroscience in India, and would like to collaborate with the medical community in the UAE," he said. City Times talks to Clint to know more about his plans for the UAE's music industry:

Tell us a bit about the Berklee exchange programme. What is in it for youngsters?
Berklee College alumni Annette Philip and I founded this programme in 2013 to showcase and present Indian music in the most appealing way for audiences worldwide. We realised that there were young musicians who were interested in Indian music all around the world. These kids were well versed with technology, and our goal was to help them access native Indian instruments (like tabla, sarod etc) or traditional dance forms. The interest, so far, has been promising. We now have students from more than 44 countries performing Indian music - reinterpreting music by high profile artistes. We are now looking to expand the programme to include global artists and I feel it's important to extend this initiative to the UAE.
Who are these high profile artistes you are talking about?
Well, one of the first big names to be involved in our programme was Bollywood composer Clinton Cerejo. He came to Berklee in Boston and conducted a master class. Then our students reinterpreted his music and he was impressed by the fresh approach.
Following that, we invited A.R. Rahman and presented him with a honorary doctorate. Rahman was so impressed by the students (who performed a tribute to him) that he hired a few of them to perform with him at his UN concert, and also in Las Vegas. He was fascinated by the approach to his songs and continues to work with the Berklee India Exchange. We then invited South Indian vocalist Vijay Prakash, and Bollywood singers Shankar Mahadevan and Shreya Ghoshal.
What made you choose Dubai to launch the exchange programme in the Middle East?
Grammy-nominated Lebanese-American singer Mayssa Karaa, who has done the Arabic version of the Sesame Street songs, and is known in these parts, is looking to get back to her roots. She wants to collaborate with us and do concerts and conduct workshops in this region.

Tell us about your plans for Dubai?
Quite a few. We are looking to create a neutral ground for music in the UAE wherein we will bring artistes from Pakistan, India, and the UAE together on stage for concerts in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We could look at performances in the evenings and during the day, we could hold after-school workshops for kids. We are also looking to bring the Berklee Tandon Global clinics to the UAE. We are seeking to partner with music schools in the UAE, who share a similar vision, to create opportunities for teachers, musicians and students in the country.  

You mentioned that music can help children with special needs. Tell us more about that?
We have seen a lot of people resonate with music, especially children with special needs. It can boost their self-confidence. There's a lot of work being done in US hospitals right now with music therapy in which we have been involved, and we want to bring those key learnings and knowledge to the UAE.
Any concerts, workshops planned for the UAE soon?
We are in talks with organisations in the UAE and they have shown keen interest in collaborating with us for music workshops and concerts. We will seek to bridge Arabic and Western music -  as we did with Indian music. There is a treasure trove of music in the Arab world, and incorporating elements from local music into funk, jazz and other genres could form the new music of tomorrow. We will also partner  with a local entity to start a music exchange programme wherein musicians from the UAE could come to the US to perform or collaborate and vice versa. We believe the UAE, and the Middle East region has some incredible talent waiting to be tapped!
On  music as a career
"Music as a career can be rewarding. Taking up music does not mean that you are limited to performances only. Nowadays, the scope has widened to include many other industries where a qualification in music can be applied. Youngsters from the UAE who want to join Berklee college could access our content through MOOCs (massive open online courses), which enabled them to get the Berklee experience for free. If that works for them, they can then do a Berklee online course, or if they wish, they could attend Berklee colleges in Valencia or Boston for a full-time course. Berklee also has partnerships with BIN (Berklee International Network) schools all over the world. Students can enroll for a two-year pre-college course and complete their degree at Berklee. In the future, we could, perhaps, explore partnerships with schools in the UAE."

Career choices students can look forward to
"There's a general misconception among the public, especially parents, who think that the core job of a musician is to perform. Well, that's not entirely true! Let me tell you, the company that hires the most Berklee alumnus is Apple. Because musicians are creative people and improvisers, companies like Apple utilise their creative skills. Even tech giants like Samsung, Cisco, Microsoft, Sony, Facebook and others are hiring qualified musicians for their projects. Then there's music for video games, cell phones, movies, virtual reality, online music services like Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music etc. Music offers diverse options. In fact, we have alumnus who work on developing audio systems for cars. The reason is they have trained ears, they know exactly what music should sound like in a car. A lot of music producers listen to music while driving, as do most music lovers, so it's important for the car audio system to sound good. There are plenty of options. In fact, the Middle East is a good place for music because it's a growing economy, hence lots of opportunities for young people."

Joining the college
"Anyone interested in joining Berklee has to go through an audition process. Prospective students should get some experience working with an ensemble. It's good to have an understanding of basic theory of harmony, ear training, arranging or improvising because it could help you could focus on the next level of education."
Tips for budding musicians
Clint: "Follow your passion and dreams. It's important to believe in your abilities. Budding musicians should seek good tutors/mentors who could help them develop their skills and put them on the right path and make the right choices. Youngsters should learn to find their own voice and follow their heart. Let's say, you want to play like Slash (former Guns N' Roses guitarist). You have to practice and practice until you've mastered his style. Then you should find your differentiating factor and your own sound. It's also important to work with a professional guitarist, perhaps as his assistant, to learn all there is to playing the guitar - how they set up for a gig, what to use on stage and how they prepare ahead of a concert. Once you have a broader knowledge and understanding of the how professionals work, it will automatically turn you into a better musician."

Helping local talent improve their skills
"We are aware of a vibrant club and rock music scene that's happening in the UAE, and we have a platform that could help these local artistes improve by way of collaborations. The idea is to produce quality music. And we could do that by bringing top music producers to the UAE who will conduct workshops and work alongside artistes in local studios and help them hone their skills."
Mayssa Kaara returns to her roots
Lebanese-American singer-songwriter Mayssa Karaa defines a new era of musical inclusion. Melding Arabic influences into Western music is her forte. She is popular for singing the Arabic version of White Rabbit in the film American Hustle, which was nominated for a Grammy. Mayssa performed the song at DIFF in 2013. She is now looking to get back to her roots and is keen on sharing her knowledge with music lovers in the Middle East. "This (Berklee) programme model will be executed using the  Berklee India Exchange model as an example. I'm happy to have Clint by my side through this journey and sharing the same vision, bringing our network of professionals to the Middle East, and to the UAE," Mayssa said.

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