Music and Art: Two Universal Languages
Service members from Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa communicate daily with Djiboutians, but some CJTF-HOA members communicate via a different medium. The media in particular are music and art, and both are programs now in full swing through collaboration with the Institute of the Djiboutian Arts.
The program gives Djiboutians and Americans a new way to exchange cultures and enhance music and art skills and knowledge by meeting to paint and play instruments together.
U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Ricky Matticks, 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery, said he was given an idea from a civil affairs captain to help bridge the language barrier. The captain introduced Matticks, a high school music teacher in his home town of Hastings, Nebraska, to the director of the Institute of Djiboutian Arts, and the program was born.
"That's when I thought it would be cool to get a group together, like the U.S. Embassy's English Discussion Group, but through music," said Matticks, who is also a member of the Camp Lemonnier Chapel praise band.
A small group of service members began visiting the institute to play with a local Djiboutian band called "Ardoukoba," made up of previous and current students from the institute, Matticks said.
Language seemed to be the only barrier between the Djiboutians and Americans, Matticks said. But what he found most interesting was how an Ardoukoba guitarist would begin playing a tune, and the rest of the Djiboutian band would start feeding off of it. Matticks and other U.S. service members would fill in with the band, creating a natural song at that very moment.
"We were in the process with them," Matticks said. "It was exciting to see that creative process from that group. We couldn't understand a word they were saying to each other, but we could tell what they were doing by the way they were playing."
Matticks said he immersed himself in the band with the Djiboutians.
"For me it was an honor to be involved in that creative process," he said. "I learned more from them on creativity than they probably learned from me."
After the service members worked with Ardoukoba for a few months, the director at the institute wanted to expand the program by involving students.
"The students were very interested in American music," said Matticks. "They wanted to learn all these songs. It was easy for us to teach it to them and we wanted to learn how they come up with what they do."
According to Deck Abdousalam, alto saxophone player at the Institute of Djiboutian Arts, the interest is mutual.
"We asked them to come play with us because we wanted to learn from them," said Abdousalam. "Our hope is to get a good life from this school and to be experts for this kind of music."
Music is not the only form of art at the institute. Canvases and paintbrushes are also used to express passion there. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Peter Buotte, CJTF-HOA planning and engagements officer in charge, works beside the students to bring out their culture.
"It shows in the drawings how we share artwork," said Yassin Hassan, an art student at the institute.
The interaction between all the artists is a mutual exchange, said Buotte. A natural, non-verbal correspondence occurs with each session bringing out various cultures in the drawings and paintings.
"I enjoy interacting with Djiboutian artists on a weekly basis," said Buotte. "When I make art or music with them, it is not work. I consider it an elevated form of play."
The outreach between the students and service members has created a prime opportunity for the two cultures to maintain musical and artistic evolution together.
"Musically, everyone is adding to the composition," said Buotte. "Visually, we frequently improvise on group composition as well."
Matticks said he hoped the visits would continue between the students and service members to broaden the insight of cultures and break through the language barrier.
"I'm amazed that it works," said Matticks. "Somehow it just does. We don't have to be able to talk to each other to make music and art. Music and art really are universal languages."