Window to the World - Africa

I’m Cara, a music therapist, singer/songwriter, and Master’s student from the U.S living in South Africa. At a young age, I learned how music is a powerful tool for empowering communities and bringing people together. From the bustling, melting-pot of New York City, I sang in a children’s choir for most of my young life. I shared the stage with people from all walks of life, and the repertoire we performed was equally multicultural, colorful, and artistically profound. I owe my fascination with World music and passion for the humanities to these early experiences in my life.

I graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in music therapy. Berklee’s diverse student body and offering of many international academic experiences further nurtured my multinational interests in music. I studied Flamenco and Latin Jazz in Spain. I immersed myself in traditional West African drumming and dance workshops for a summer in Ghana. When an opportunity came my way to travel to Kenya for a music and cultural exchange, it changed my whole perspective on music therapy and intercultural practices.

Motivated by an unending curiosity to further understand therapeutic music practices in Africa, a few colleagues and I created a network organization called Umoja Global Community Music Therapy. This organization conducts trips and exchanges in East Africa, where music therapists from the United States can learn from and observe local musicians, traditional healers, and community leaders who dedicate their lives to the health, wellbeing, and empowerment of their communities through the arts. This brings me to my current stop on my journey in South Africa.

University of Pretoria’s postgraduate degree in music therapy is the only accredited music therapy program on the African continent. I moved abroad and enrolled in this program motivated by my hunger to learn more about music therapy within an African context, to immerse myself more deeply in intercultural practices, and to further inform my work with Umoja Global. Navigating this move on the precipice of a global pandemic was no small feat, and to say it was a test of patience, focus and persistence would be an understatement. Nonetheless, It turned out to be not only an incredibly rich international learning experience, but I’ve been wholly inspired to continue my journey on a path that’s less traveled by, following in the footsteps of this program’s founding.

University of Pretoria’s program has curated such brilliant professionals over the years, who continue to be the movers and shakers of this emerging field. I am beyond honored to be included in this cohort of world-changers. In the new year, I’ll be placed at a psychiatric hospital in Cape Town and completing my research dissertation that investigates music therapy practices across the African continent. I hope to continue my music therapy journey here in the Rainbow Nation, where cultural humility, storytelling, ritual, community, and social justice permeates my learning objectives and interests.


Cara Smith, MT-BC

Music therapy master’s student, University of Pretoria, South Africa