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Taking a World View

African instruments help teacher spread understanding.


Ric Alviso picks up where Berlitz language courses leave off, teaching the universal language of music.

Alviso and his team of 30 musicians will perform on melodic and percussion instruments from Africa on Sunday during the World Music Recital at Cal State Northridge, where he will discuss some of the continent's musical traditions and instruments.

"Music is one way to better understand each other and appreciate another group of people," said Alviso, an ethnomusicologist who teaches at CSUN. "By hearing and understanding their music and culture, I think it creates a better world."

Alviso, 41, who studied with masters of indigenous instruments in Zimbabwe and Senegal, will perform on several instruments, including marimbas and the kora. A 21-string instrument, the kora sounds like a cross between a lute and a harp.

Made from a 4-foot gourd cut lengthwise, the instrument is traditionally used to accompany musician-historians in their epics, which can last as long as 10 hours.

"The time to start playing kora is when a child is young, so their fingers can form around the strings," said Prince Diabate, considered by many African musicians to be one of the best kora players of his generation.

Having developed a system to help adults play the kora correctly, Diabate taught Alviso to play the instrument when Alviso studied in Senegal.

"He plays the music exactly like an African," said Diabate. "If you are African or not African, you need a good teacher and experience. Music doesn't have color."

Alviso's interest in ethnic music began when he explored the roots of American pop music, gospel, blues and jazz.

"They're all based on African music," said Alviso, who is studying to earn a doctorate in ethnomusicology at UCLA.

"Part of what I do with my teaching and performance is to break down the stereotype that all African music is just primitive drum music and not worthy of comparison with Western tradition and cultures."

Said Jessica Reinbolt, 22, a music major and percussionist in the West African drum ensemble: "This music can be a release to someone who has never connected with other cultures before. You get pulled straight into the music and it is so important to realize that we're all the same inside, we all get connected to music."


World Music Recital, Sunday at 3 p.m. at Cal State Northridge, Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Admission $10, students $5. Call (818) 677-2488.

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