Post authored by Amanda Gouldthorpe, assistant director for Office of International Programs

As I type this I’m traveling across the Russian/Finnish border by train with the Wambura Mitaru Synergy. We’ve traded winter snowscapes in Boston for those in Helsinki, Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia, to be specific. After our flight out of Boston last Friday was canceled due to the blizzard, we finally arrived in Europe on Tuesday night – to quote Wambura herself, “It’s really happening!”

Sebastian Reunert, Wambura Mitaru and Moez Dawad (l to r) perform at the JFC Jazz Club in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Sebastian Reunert on guitar and Moez Dawad on hand percussion round out this truly impressive trio who are here to showcase original music and represent Berklee at the 2013 Close Encounters festival, an event designed to bring international students together to share their original music and create new music together. With Wambura hailing from Kenya, Sebastian from South Africa, and Moez from Egypt and Sudan by way of DC, this group brings their African roots front and center with a serious groove that you can’t help but tap your foot to and lyrics that make you sing along – participation encouraged!


So now that we’ve made it, albeit halfway through the schedule of festival events, WMS has been able to click right in and make the most of it. Márta Schmidt and her team at our BIN partner the Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory have done an excellent job of making adjustments to accommodate the late arrival. Moreover, the festival has expanded this year, with a more extensive schedule of events and even more bands. In addition to including students from Berklee, Pop & Jazz and our other BIN partner in Helsinki, the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the event also features students from France (the band Clo hails from our BIN partner the Music Academy International in Nancy), Latvia, Estonia, and Norway.

The train is bringing us back from a gig at the renowned JFC Jazz Club in St. Petersburg. There was a scramble to put together a new gig for WMS after it was clear we wouldn’t arrive in time for a Tuesday night performance. Despite a mere two-day notice for an afternoon concert, WMS played to nearly a full audience. By the encore, they had the whole place clapping along and singing in Kiswahili and Russian, and as they left the stage drew shouts of “bravo!” from the crowd.

On Thursday and Friday the schedule back in Helsinki includes an afternoon performance on an open-air stage at the Ice Park skating rink and a final blow-out concert for all the groups on a boat! You’ll get to hear from the band members themselves once they’re back at Berklee, so be sure to stay tuned! Until then, check out the excellent coverage the festival is providing on their blog at, and keep an eye on the YouTube channel for video from all of the week’s great performances at