Help Tamara build bridges through music

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Tamara

Tamara Turner follows the beat of her own drum – literally and figuratively. Her passion with music began when she was five years old composing piano pieces in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. Tamara hasn’t skipped a beat as an adult, dabbling in everything from film scoring to music journalism, and studying a wide range of musical styles from West African drumming in Ghana to tin whistle in Ireland to Gnawa music in Morocco.

Most recently, Tamara graduated from Boston’s Tufts University with a masters degree in ethnomusicology. There, she helped organize a “Music and Islam” symposium where, by connecting with the local Moroccan community, she brought in a Moroccan band to host workshops that culminated in a big concert. For Tamara, music plays a critical role in challenging the Islamophobia she often comes across in the U.S.

“Because music has the ability to build connections artistically, creatively, and emotionally, it gives us an opportunity to lead with the heart, transcending the medium of ‘discourse’ and offering a different kind of relationship with which to understand others,” she says.

The intention

Broadly speaking, Tamara envisions an organization that utilizes music for cultural advocacy, outreach, and education, starting with but not limited to the music and cultures of North Africa. One of the first issues she would like to address through musical bridges is Islamophobia.

The idea is two-fold: Similar to the program she helped organize at Tufts, she wants to connect with local immigrant communities in the U.S. to help share their music through concerts, education, and more. Travel is also key, as she’d like to work in North Africa to help record and archive musical traditions.

Besides fostering cross-cultural understanding, and of course, celebrating the inherent joy that music brings, Tamara also hopes to counter the exotification of non-Western music cultures that can sometimes result, however well-intentioned.

“That’s part of the vision, too. Not just piecemealing and romanticizing certain elements of other cultures, but allowing ourselves to be challenged by and uncomfortable with differences as well,” she says.


Tamara learning the guimbri with her teacher, Abdellatif El Makhzoumi, in Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo via Tamara Turner.)


So far, Tamara has been researching similar organizations around the world and is in the process of refining her idea.

Here are some challenges she has identified:

  1. Reaching out to immigrant communities in the U.S. seems clear cut to Tamara given her experience, but incorporating the North African component is both nebulous and daunting.
  2. She doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, and is considering becoming involved with an existing organization or program at first.
  3. Although she’s been encouraged by the nonprofits she’s been in touch with, she always hears a version of the same story: “Contact us after you get funding.”
  4. Sustaining enthusiasm and momentum around the idea after it’s no longer fresh is a concern.

How you can help

  • Do you know of any similar organizations or programs to add to her list?
  • Besides initiating conversations, is there more she can be doing to get her foot in the door with people who are already doing similar work?
  • How can she inspire the average person to get outside their comfort zone and, for example, be open to new music from the Islamic world?
  • For music fans and non-music fans alike, what are some other effective and fun outreach strategies besides concerts?
  • Aside from major cities, are there other areas in the U.S. that could benefit from such an organization?
  • What are some potential funding avenues she should pursue?
  • How can she best balance her vision with logistics, and prevent getting so bogged down with logistics that her vision deflates?
  • If you’ve started your own nonprofit, would you be willing to share your story and the lessons learned?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!


Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Comments (5)

  1. Devon Leger writes:
    September 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Cool! I wish you the best with this. Helping immigrant communities connect with the rest of the community is great work and challenging as well. It helps to have an ethnomusicologist bridging the cultural gaps. Very rewarding. Not much funding. You should start doing this work on your own. Approach a local venue about producing a concert series. The best way is to learn as you do. There aren’t many viable models left anymore for this kind of work, so you might as well make your own!

  2. AK writes:
    September 8, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I’m no expert, but I think one of the best ways to get people to approach new music is to not initially tell them what it is, let them listen, and then explain it to them. Especially when you think about all the performances on the street in NYC for example, people just gravitate to performances. On the other hand, have you ever considered music halls that are very interested in different cultures (such as Carnegie Hall) or even just museums? If the music being played has a deeper meaning, which I’m sure it does, that perhaps goes with an exhibit in a museum (Moroccan art), I am sure they would be open to bringing it into the mix (I think the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an example).

  3. Claire writes:
    September 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Hi Tamara! Your story reminded me of an organization in the UK: They are a great bunch and I’m sure they’d be happy to talk to you about how they managed to set up and fund their idea, and more.

  4. Stacie writes:
    June 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Tamara! A fellow Idealist blogger forwarded your post to me. I, too, would love to connect people who would otherwise not co-mingle through shared music experiences. If you by any chance live in NYC, maybe we can meet for coffee and brainstorm.

  5. Andreas writes:
    June 5, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Hi, everything is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing facts, that’s truly good, keep
    up writing.

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