When Professor Emily Achieng’ Akuno was introduced during the just concluded 93rd edition of the Kenya National Music Festivals at Kabarak University, there was nothing unusual about her.
Prof Achieng’ is a woman wearing many hats.
But as the packed hall applauded her presence, not many heard that she is currently the President of Paris-based International Music Council and is putting Kenya on the global map through her interaction with top music bodies under Unesco.
She is the first ever Kenyan to occupy the seat and the first female from Africa.
She is a professor of music at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK) and is currently the Deputy vice chancellor at the Co-operative University of Kenya.
Next year Prof Achieng’ will add another feather on her hat when she will be take over as the president of Pan-African Society of Music Educators (PASMAE). The current president is Prof Mellitus Nyongesa Wanyama.
In an interview with Nation.co.ke Prof Achieng’ said the national music festival is fertile ground for budding musicians.
“I started participating in music festivals when I was 10 years old and this has shaped my career which culminated into becoming a professor of music,” recalls Prof Achieng’.
She added: “I have grown in the festivals and I know what kind of benefit such festivals can bring to participants.”
“This year’s performances are brilliant and what I saw on the stage was spectacular. I loved the uniformity of the movement on stage, vocal blending, artistry which brought the best of talents in the 10 days festivals,” she said.
But what impressed her most is the deep involvement of the boy child.
“I have keenly observed and I have note with a lot of joy the number of boys participate in this year’s competition was impressive,” she said.
She added: “I remember in 2006 we had more female participants than their male colleagues.”
“I am glad the boy child is stepping out and coming back to the stage,” she added.
Prof Achieng’ was also impressed by the standards, saying “this is nice because institutions offering music as a course are not many in this country.
However, she called on musicians to learn how to register intellectual property rights of their works.
“As artists and trainers must learn to register with the relevant authorities so that their works are protected. It is also important to learn not to ape other people’s work but to use our creativity to generate our own,” she added.
While presiding over the music gala, Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha called on musicians to register their music and own property rights.
“Due to lack of knowledge on intellectual rights many musicians in Kenya were poor,” said Prof Magoha.
Prof Achieng’ said indigenous system has made prolific players of the nyatiti and the sengenya drums as they started honing skills at early age.
She said the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) would take our music and other talents to the next level.
“It is crucial we embrace CBC so that we can prepare the next generation of pianists, composers and singers as children will imitate us and pick the best from us,” she said.
“It is my prayers that teachers will take CBC seriously and go beyond what is on paper to ensure we give pupils proper experience,” she added.
She says being a president of international music council has been daunting task as Kenya has not been vibrant in the international music scene.
She said her main task is sell Kenyan music to the international community in all the forums she chairs.
“Kenya has no option but to revive its participation in international scene. What we need to do is to come together and forge unity like this one witnessed in national music festivals and upscale it to international level,” she said.
Church festivals and cultural music gatherings calendars should be harmonised to form a formidable yearly show.
“ This will bring people together and grow economically and put money into the pockets of musicians and that is the education the national music council needs to pick up from this year festivals."
Her two years tenure of office as president comes to an end on September 27.
She says her first born son Moses Akuno who is an engineer plays the saxophone while the younger son Darrel –Jo plays the violin.
“They just make me happy,” she says adding that music runs in the family as her maternal grandmother was a fantastic singer while her mother was church music trainer.
Prof Achieng’ has written several songs for her singing group at Nairobi Central Seventh Day Adventist Church.
She has also written widely on music education in Kenya and published music books including the 8-4-4 series known as music for schools.