A Song About Peace
Curiosity has been a driving force for Samuel Benda, who will be graduating in the fall of 2017 with degrees in global studies and political science. He is currently immersed in his senior research project which is focused on native African music and its cultural context. Benda describes his project as a way of teaching the African culture behind the music. "I am focusing on how we can teach African music to Americans. I want to show that African music is much more than the songs themselves, it is an activity," he explains. "The culture should not be lost as it is the foundation and heart of the music."
Benda recently interviewed the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, an iconic African band that has found global success and has toured around the world. Through studying bands like this, Benda conducts an in-depth examination of the cultural meaning behind African music, and outlines how it should be taught to those who have not experienced it first hand.
His research project originates from his love for music. Although he is not as active as he once was in the music community, Benda still has an affinity for music—and his music was what set the course for him to move to the United States. Born in Sierra Leone, Benda was on his own by the age of 8 after losing both of his parents. Very quickly he realized that he needed a skill in order to survive. He found this skill in drumming. Benda spent every second of his day practicing his craft. When he wasn't drumming he was dreaming of drumming. His raw ability at this young age was recognized by a local band, which he ended up joining. The band played music that focused on uniting a country in times of war. Benda described their music as a way to heal the country and bring people back together. These shows helped pay for food but also caught the attention of an orphanage worker one night. After speaking with Benda and learning about his story, she organized the adoption process for him in the United States where he was adopted by a Minnesota family at the age of 11.
Benda attributes his success as a musician to his passion for the music and the culture that it captures. It drove him to pour everything he had into his performances. He has applied this same passion in his interest to learn. He describes his focus on academics by saying, "I didn't come to the University because I want to make money. I am here to learn. I am a musician who had opportunity in music but gave it all up." He loves his classes in global studies and is very engaged with his professors. Between office hour visits and posing thoughtful questions in class, Benda and his professors are constantly challenging each other to go an extra step.
"The experience that I have from the University, the experience that I've come to know myself through this education is priceless," Benda says. "The world needs liberal arts. Look at our world right now, I think everyone should be taking liberal arts classes. It has been an amazing experience, I really thank the University of Minnesota for giving me a chance… I came here doubting myself, serious doubt. I have had some roadblocks and it makes me tremble sometimes when I think about the positions I have been in during my life and how much this University has helped me to succeed."
Upon graduation Benda would like to work for the United Nations. Intervention protocols during times of crises are something that interests him. Having seen his home country torn apart by war, Benda wants to help prevent conflicts in the future. "I want to be a global leader for an organization like the United Nations and work in the arena for global peace," Benda says. "I have seen firsthand what anarchy looks like when people are not able to come together, when pride and nationalism and inequality get out of hand. I want to be there at the verge of war to facilitate agreements for peace."