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Musician, travel-lover Safiya Leslie connects cultures via global music

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Musician, travel-lover Safiya Leslie connects cultures via global music
Safiya Leslie COURTESY PHOTO

Berklee College of Music alum Safiya Leslie has a hefty resume. The musician, singer-songwriter, sound engineer, ethnomusicologist and travel-lover navigates a packed schedule of concerts and trips, as well as a side business crafting subscription music boxes, all with the goal of bringing global music into homes and neighborhoods across Boston and beyond.

“I feel like especially in America, we don‘t highlight other cultures, and we typically just listen to the pop and rock and hip-hop and R&B of our own country,” says Leslie. “I feel like because we don’t listen to world music, we lose out on learning about other cultures.”

Colombian singer-songwriter Lizje performs at a Travel Through Music concert. PHOTO: COURTESY SAFIYA LESLIE

Leslie’s concerts center on a specific geographic location, and a number of artists will perform songs from that country in different genres. Then the artists will talk about the styles performed and the country being celebrated, creating a balance between entertainment and education. Leslie also hosts music-based group tours around the world. Earlier this month, she brought a group to Cuba to immerse themselves in the music, dance and culture of the island.

When you listen to other people’s music and experience people’s dance and cultures, it sometimes knocks biases down, it sometimes teaches you some history, sometimes it teaches you the similarities and the differences between the cultures,” says Leslie. “You might listen to something and think, ‘Wow, that reminds me of my home.’”

Safiya Leslie, second from left, with musicians Pauli Camou, Naledi Masilo and Niu Raza. PHOTO: COURTESY SAFIYA LESLIE

Leslie was part of the 2023 Fenway Cohort, an initiative intending to increase diverse representation in the Fenway neighborhood and build community through the arts. On Sept. 21 at 4 p.m., Leslie will host a Travel Through Music concert at The Station in Fenway centering music of the African diaspora. The event will include Caribbean and African artists, dancers and a marketplace of African goods. Leslie herself will perform reggae and calypso-infused songs and then interview each artist on stage.

“The breadth of experiences that this group is aiming to deliver while pursuing their personal dreams and growing their businesses is truly remarkable,” says Andi Simpson, senior vice president for creative and marketing strategy for Samuels & Associates, about the 2023 Fenway Cohort.

Leslie’s Travel Through Music subscription box service was born during the pandemic when the artist couldn’t perform or travel but still wanted to spread the cultural word. Each month’s box highlights a different destination and includes products from and information about that country as well as a custom playlist of music by an artist from that region.

Though she has a lot going on, Leslie’s vision is extremely focused. All of her work is specifically aimed at creating cross-cultural connections and education through music.

“You realize how similar we all are,” says Leslie. “We have so many borders and so much politics. Music breaks down those barriers.”

arts, global music, music, travel