Our speaker today was Steve Pile, son of member Doug Pile. who presented a history of his involvement with the music of the West African country, The Gambia.
Steve developed an interest in African music while he was studying abroad in London during his college years. He became fascinated with West African music and pursued his interest while in London and ultimately was in contact with Jali Dembo Konteh , then one of the world's leading kora players. Steve decided to take a three-week side-trip to the Gambia in 1999 to learn how to play this instrument. After one or 2 lessons from Dembo, he was turned over to Dembo’s son, Jali Bakary Konteh who became his teacher and close friend.
Music in the Gambia is the lifeblood of the society. Musical traditions are passed down from generation to generation. The musicians, known as “Griots”, carry the history of the culture and present it in song. They perform at weddings, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries, national celebrations, and simple community gatherings. They tell stories with their songs, mediate disputes through music, sing praise songs for people who hire them to do this. They are part of the Mandinka culture, a very peaceful and community-oriented group of people.
After a seven-year hiatus in his friendship with Jali, the friendship was re-established and really blossomed with Steve ultimately returning to the Gambia approximately 4 years ago, bringing with him $2,500 worth of solar panels to help provide electricity to power recording equipment so that his friend could produce a CD., During this visit the concept of building a structure to house a school of music was hatched. Over the ensuing 3 years, Steve has managed to raise nearly $24,000 to help with the construction project. He has done this through a combination of  performances, benefits, and online campaigning to enlist support from a wider range of music-lovers. The project is approximately $8,000 short of completion which would then allow it to be used for housing local as well as international music students as they learn this rich musical tradition, as well as to be the site for a high-quality recording studio to allow this music to be sent out into the world.
With the intrusion of Western music, fewer and fewer of the native youth are being drawn to native music and the tradition is showing some signs of losing its traction with the people. A formal music school where this education can be continued is one of the prime purposes of the music school. Not only will the school help to preserve the musical culture and traditions of the people but will also be a place for young musicians from the Gambia can come to learn from the master players of this music. Additionally, it is hoped that international students will provide funding for the ongoing operations of the school as they come to learn the musical traditions of this country
 Steve is hoping to amass approximately $8000 through a campaign on  an Internet fundraising site that would help complete this project by the end of the year. Already, there are increasing numbers of foreign musicians interested in coming to the school to study and with the training that has been provided there is some limited production of musical output for either the Internet or CD sales.
Steve played a few numbers on the Kora for the group at the end of his presentation to introduce them to its unique sound and entrancing tonality. At the beginning of his presentation he showed the trailer from a documentary regarding the music school and the central role of music in this small but significant African country.
An e-mail will be sent to club members detailing how to access the  site, once it has been formally established for this fundraising drive.