Keith Everette Smith Pays it Forward in Uganda
When people seize an opportunity to help others, sometimes there's a great personal story behind it, like the one I'm about to tell you.
TobyMac's Front of House engineer, Ryan Lampa, contacted me in hopes of securing some support for one of the group's musicians who was about to go on a trip to Uganda. Guitarist Keith Everette Smith was planning to join fellow musicians teaching over 400 students about music, from creation to notation to production. Keith explained, "Last year, around January 1, my wife Tasha and I sat down to make some goals for the year. We had the idea of going to Africa. My wife used to tour with Katy Perry among other artists. Between tours, she would do mission trips."
From Plans to Reality
Keith and Tasha had their goal. How did it come to fruition? A friend of a friend.
"We were working with a friend, Josh Silverberg, a producer in town, writing some songs for his record," Keith began. "A couple of weeks later, we got a call from Brad Buschell. He and Josh are friends from the New York area. Brad mentioned a children's village in Kampala, Uganda, that takes care of 3,000 orphans. He'd go over there once a year and do a music camp for them. Brad wanted to know if we would go and teach them. We agreed to work on getting the money together to go. Brad informed us that it was all taken care of. The group had raised money by selling necklaces that the women of the Watoto make to fund the camp's activities."
Keith Everette Smith Gears Up
Traveling to a new country for the first time can certainly be scary. What to pack?
"We received some information about what to expect," said Keith. "How to travel, which amenities you need–shots and stuff. However, this was a developed area. They've built some nice buildings and take good care of the kids."
What about music gear? "I was in charge of the music production portion," Keith said. "They've got 4–5 iMacs with Logic software and some interfaces. This was only the second time Brad's people have gone. In between the first and second time, the kids had gotten really good. They love American music, and now they have these resources and people to train them."
Keith had requested a couple SM7Bs to bring along with him for the class. "It's one of my favorite mics," Keith proclaimed. "I can and have used it on just about anything. Tasha has a pretty unique voice, and the SM7B is what works most of the time, even on a slick pop track. It is my go-to mic, set up all the time in my studio, in case I need to grab something quick. I'm also a trumpet player, so I use it on trumpet all the time."
Keith spent about 10 days in Uganda and taught 300–400 kids. The kids were grouped by their area of interest, whether it was vocals, drumming, songwriting, singing, or producing. Their ages ranged from early teens to twenties.
In the mornings, the instructors would get together to discuss what they would cover each day. "It was neat that the kids would lead worship and do the music in the morning. It was cool to see them do their thing. They are really talented," Keith marveled. "We would then split off and have some large group sessions where some other instructors taught music theory and the Nashville Number System. All the kids have grown up being in choirs. The Watoto Children's Choir goes all over the world to raise money for the orphanage. When we taught them numbers and asked them to sing "3-6-5" and they did it, it was awesome hearing these giant groups of kids singing parts."
"In the afternoon, we had a huge chunk of time to work with the kids who wanted to be producers," Keith continued. "We taught them some stuff about Logic, some shortcuts and mic techniques. Then they had time to work on their own stuff and present it. They wrote their own songs, and we would add tracks to them. It was very interactive. We would then bring their tracks back to the States, clean them up a bit, and send them back to the kids."
When asked where these students get their musical inspirations, Keith responded that they are certainly familiar with Katy Perry. They know Pharrell Williams and TobyMac. "Toby created a video for the kids, and we played it for them. They don't have reliable internet access to watch shows like Pensado's Place, so we are trying to gather some resources for them to learn from when we go back."
"There are a lot of beautiful things coming out of Uganda. The Watoto are some of the most joyful and giving people you'll ever meet. It's such a beautiful thing to be a part of. "
Keith, we couldn't agree more.