Finding your own beat: Making spaces for the non-Western music scene at UBC

UBC is simultaneously multi-cultural and monocultural — especially depending on your faculty. Many music students, despite being on one of the most diverse campuses in the country, still study within a Western-centric space every day.

The UBC School of Music is a program nourished by Western ideology, and is a great institution for people who want to pursue higher accomplishments in the world of Western-based music. However, it doesn't seem to be a place for musicians who would like to focus on instruments hailing from other places around the world.

Ibrahim Bèro Saker, a second-year arts student is one of these people. Originally from Syria, Saker is a gifted player of the oud — a traditional Middle Eastern instrument that is similar in appearance to a guitar, but with 11 or 13 strings and no frets.

Saker’s life is enriched with his home culture and music. If you go online and type his name in the search bar, you’ll get tons of results of his involvement with Middle Eastern music.

“I want to become a messenger of my music. I want to introduce [UBC] to different cultures and see what we can do in terms of multicultural music.”

According to Saker, living in a diverse city like Vancouver has helped him a lot in terms of spreading the influence of Syrian music.

“I’ve been participating [in] events off-campus with Vancouver’s Intercultural Orchestra,” said Saker. “I’m [also] reaching out to several players of other instruments, musicians from other cultures individually to collaborate … you know, spreading the word that ‘I’m here’ and ‘this is how I play.’”

Despite having a huge passion for music, Saker did not seek a professional career in the UBC School of Music. This doesn’t mean that he has no relation with the faculty, though. In fact, taking elective courses on basic music theory is very popular amongst the music enthusiasts on campus.

“I’ve done African drumming and dancing with professor Kofi,” said Saker. “I also took music 100 and 101 ... which talks about music history. ”

But when Saker reached out to professors within the faculty asking if he could enrol as a music minor, he was told this wasn't a possibility.

“[The professors] were all very welcoming, but there was no chance for participation for my instrument [in the program].”

Although it doesn't provide an inclusive array of instructional classes, the music department still remains a supporter of multicultural music events on campus.

In October 2018, Saker and two of his friends put on a trio of piano, riq (Arabic percussion), and oud in the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre with the department’s support.

And in the meantime, you can find Saker in the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra, the musical videos posted on his own online social media and, of course, in his live performances right here at UBC. Saker even led a Middle Eastern music circle with the Arab Students Association all of last semester.

“I’m pretty satisfied with what I’m doing right now," he said. "Maybe I’ll start a music business in the future, but for now, it’s going well.”