Boston Herald 06/07
Teens Get Plugged In To Rock – And Zimbabwe
By Christopher Blagg/ Music
Boston Herald, Thursday, June 7, 2007
It’s unlikely anyone in attendance will ever forget Aaron Harel’s bar mitzvah. Not many kids can boast a surprise performance by an internationally recognized band from Zimbabwe. The appearance of Bongo Love came courtesy of the 13-year-old’s participation in a burgeoning music program called Plugged In.
Needham-based Plugged In is not your typical after-school music program. It concentrates on the nuts and bolts of being in a rock band, as will be demonstrated at a pair of benefit concerts – including performances by Bongo Love – Saturday at Mass Bay Community College.
“We’d like to think what we do has a different style. It’s not like school,” said Plugged In co-founder Tom Pugh. “We’re giving these kids a chance to experiment. They have enough people in their lives telling them exactly how to do stuff.”
Only five kids registered for Plugged In’s first term five years ago. This spring it had 82, enough to form 19 bands.
“I thought it might be cool so I did one session,” Harel said. “Then I got my friends to do it and now we’re all in a band. You get to do songs that you like and you get a lot of confidence. It’s just really, really fun.”
So what does all this have to do with Bongo Love coming to Harel’s bar mitzvah? Besides its School of Rock mentality, Plugged In also stresses cultural exchange and giving back. Each term the students decide on a certain charity to receive the proceeds from their end-of-term concert. A couple of years ago, they picked the Elias Fund, a Zimbabwean relief project. In learning about Zimbabwe they came across Bongo Love, and managed to get the band to Massachusetts to perform at their charity concert.
For Pugh, Plugged In’s charitable and cultural-exchange aspect is as important as its band-mentoring.
“(The students) have an opportunity to actually do something with their music,” Pugh said. That’s one of the things we’re proudest of – giving the kids a way of expressing concern and having some concrete effect on the wider world.”
Harel fell hard for Bongo Love’s “Afro-coustic” music when the quartet arrived. He invited the band members to his house for supper and the young drummer jammed with them after dessert.
“These guys came from halfway around the world and they’re in my house,” Harel said, gushing. “They’re amazing people.”
The appreciation was mutual.
“Cultural exchange is so important,” said Bongo Love founder John Mambira from a North American tour stop.”We’re so glad that they really appreciate our music and are motivated to learn how to play it.’
And so in a show of gratitude Mambira and his band mates brought their marimbas and bongos to an unsuspecting Harel’s Jewish rite of passage celebration.
“Aaron fell in love with our music so we surprised him,” Mambira said. “I think it meant a lot to the young man. And that was our first bar mitzvah!”
Rock the Cradle of Love concert to benefit the CJ Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, at Mass Bay Community College, Wellesley, Saturday at 2 and 7. Tickets: $20, $10 for students; 781 956-4281.