Ten or so Fijian children with disabilities sit crossed-legged, barely containing their excitement as one of their classmates jumps up to showcase dance moves that would put most of us to shame. Joy emanates from their youthful eyes, their broad grins. Every fibre of them is full of life, caught in the moment, in the music, in their love of it. Every inch of the room is wrapped in the protection of their shared elation and love.
In these moments, they are free from the judgements and misunderstandings. However, these musical moments, created by the Be Happy Music Club, are also doing much more; they are spreading awareness amongst the community, they are giving these children wings, to let their innocence out, to explore the power of music, to let their self-esteem soar beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
These moments are the product of one man’s passion for music and dedication to spreading it’s bliss to children of all abilities and backgrounds.
André Comaru, a rocker from Brazil who now lives in Australia, is the founder of the Be Happy Music Club. When I discovered his work on social media, I spontaneously lit up. I was hooked and wanted to know more. I was inspired to learn about how his program is bringing love, joy, and happiness to disadvantaged children, their families and their community. To my delight, he agreed to chat with me
André, your program is truly incredible. What was your inspiration for starting this charitable project?
I have always loved the pure joy of sharing music, how its richness is woven into the very fabric of life that binds us together.
I also come from a family that has always given back. I grew up seeing my Mum and Dad do small acts of kindness like pack leftovers and walk the streets giving them to the homeless. On Christmas, my parents would buy big buckets of food and we’d go to slums and give it away to families. Sharing is caring. That’s what we believe.
Before you started the Be Happy Music Club you were working in a corporate job. Why did you give it up?
For years I had been working to fulfil my own dreams, but I was feeling the need to give back more and more. In 2015, the Winston Cyclone had mashed Fiji and hit the islands really badly. I wanted to help the community rebuild – the only problem was that I’m not very handy! I’m a hard worker but I felt the community was teaching me more than I was actually serving the community!
Then I got invited to play music to the children from the Fiji School for the Blind, and I was like “Oh my gosh yeah! Let’s go!” After that first day, I knew I had found my purpose, there was no going back.
Can you tell me what happened on the first day?
I was so nervous because I’d never had much contact with anyone living with any sort of disability. I didn’t know what they wanted to listen to but I was so positive about it.
And I remember the very first song I played was Three Little Birds, and I was singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” When I played that first chord and started singing, they sang back to me, and it was this wave of love that I am never ever going to forget because I just saw their faces changing so much while they were singing. They couldn’t see, they were all just in a completely different world.
We sang, and in that moment I knew I had a mission. I understood why I’m here in this world!
When did you decide this was something that you wanted to continue?
I kept going to the school and kept playing and building this beautiful strong relationship with the kids, as well as with the families in the community. Then I found out that there are 17 special schools that look after kids with different disabilities and none of them had music programs.
Fijians, they are naturally so musical. They are born dancing. They are so harmonious in their voices. They sing in different pitches and different harmonies, not even rehearsing. It’s just so natural. I couldn’t believe they could not access music on a daily basis. Every time music is on there, it changes the whole environment.
You were only in Fiji for a short time. How did you keep it going after you left?
I started talking to local musicians in the villages about what I was doing and started inviting these musicians to go to school to play with me and see and feel what I felt and what I saw.
When I left the islands, two musicians kept the program going. I started busking in Australia and sending money back to these musicians, so I could give back to the community.
I knew I had to find ways to spread that love, to spread the music program. So I kept playing and working. We now have four schools that are getting music on a weekly basis, which is fantastic. We also got approved by the government to provide the music program as part of the curriculum of the schools. I’m working to extend the project to all 17 special schools in the next five years.
The program is making a major impact. Can you tell me more about that?
One of our main goals within the project is the music therapy side of things; we want to spread the joy of music. Another major aspect is giving the children the ability to learn an instrument and create performances. This gives them more social skills, confidence and the feeling that they belong to something. But this program is also breaking down long held stigmas around disabilities.
There is a very sad statistic in the Pacific Islands – only 10% of the children living with a disability can access education. A lot of this has to do with the stigmas. We believe that through music we can show how talented these children are; they are so capable of doing anything if they’re given a chance. By creating music performances, we get students performing in front of the community.
So this is our main mission, to break those stigmas through music, and by extension, giving the students the opportunity to be recognised as part of the whole and perhaps have a brighter future within their communities.
Can you tell me how you’ve seen stigmas broken?
At the end of 2016, we created a really cute performance at the Fiji School for the Blind. I invited every parent to come along, and I was really afraid because I knew that a lot of them wouldn’t show up because they are ashamed. But the majority of them actually came.
One of the students, Naomi, is completely blind and is the most talented kid I have ever seen in my life. She learned how to play the ukulele, she now plays the piano as well, she plays a little bit of guitar, and she’s an amazing singer. On that day, Naomi sang a song. At the end of the performance her mum came up to the stage, grabbed the microphone, and said: “I’ve been rejecting my daughter for such a long time, and ever since she started playing music, I have seen so much talent, and I regret every single day that I rejected my daughter.” She was saying that while crying into the microphone. She was making everyone, including myself, cry as well.
In that moment I really felt the power of creating music with the children, with the community, with bringing people together. I felt the reinforcement in my heart that I could never stop doing what I’m doing. And just before I made the decision to quit my job a few months ago and do this full-time, I felt that again. This is my mission. I love music. I know what makes a human being feel. I know what makes animals, the trees, everyone feel. I know what music brings to this planet, and I cannot live one day without thinking about how to bring more music to more children that cannot access it.
We all have something to offer to each other: big and small. Sharing our unique gifts and talents augments healthy connection and restores faith in the truth of our humanity: we are all one. When I help you, I help the collective.
When I give without any thought or desire for something back, my returns have been truly limitless. André has helped me remember this.
Has someone given you a magical gift? Has music changed your life? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.
May the gifts of giving and music find you always,