Silver medal winner (2024) in the Performing Arts category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY)


“A skilled writer, Brownell prioritizes the voices and perspectives of GC members while contextualizing their place in postcolonial Africa’s complex social dynamics and geopolitical relationships” — Kirkus Review



Out Now

Available in selected book shops and online at Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes and Noble!


Situated next to the Kenyan capital’s largest garbage dump, the Nairobi slum of Korogocho might seem like one of the least likely places on the planet where a youth orchestra has found itself a home. And yet, the classical strains of Mozart and Vivaldi, along with more contemporary fare, can be heard gently wafting through Korogocho on a weekly basis. Since its founding in 2008, Ghetto Classics—so named by the initial cohort of students—has been helping to inspire generations of local kids who learn firsthand how the arts can uplift and change lives.

Ghetto Classics: How a Youth Orchestra Changed a Nairobi Slum is the story of how an initially motley crew of young people has morphed over time into a semi-professional orchestra that has played with some of the world’s top classical and jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Salif Keita and Hugh Masekela, and performed for the likes of dignitaries including Pope Francis, President Barack Obama,  Belgium’s Queen Mathilde and Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta.  They have also helped to encourage their local community and bring a sense of possibility and promise to a place where it was much needed. The book is based on the author’s 2016 New York Times profile of the orchestra and its founder, Elizabeth Njoroge.

Press Clippings: The Remarkable Story of the Orchestra Born from a Nairobi Garbage Dump

BBC World Service/Focus on Africa: Ghetto Classics celebrates 15 years with a new biography 

The Star Kenya: Book Review of Ghetto Classics

Ensembles News: Stories Not Statistics The story of Ghetto Classics with author Ginanne Brownell 

Book launch video from Nairobi

Kenya Business Daily: UK author captures like of Ghetto Classics musicians

Kirkus Review: An absorbing story of how a youth orchestra transformed its community

Interlochen Public Radio (IPR): In conversation with Ginanne Brownell

Praise for Ghetto Classics:


Ginanne Brownell’s book transports us to the fence between despondency and enduring hope, and asks us to choose. Not just for the deserving but at-risk children of this slum, but for all of Kenya. And more importantly, she asks us to choose what kind of world we want. And her work—based on her own deep experiences there—reminds us that it actually is our decision to make.Kirk Whalum, Grammy-winning American saxophonist and songwriter

Ginanne Brownell is up to something wonderful. Her book on ghetto kids in Kenya producing beautiful classical music has all the right elements for an incredibly moving story that will appeal to lots of people. The Kenyan slums are such rich repositories of all the good and bad in the world. The poverty is as depressing as anywhere on Earth, but so many people in these places do shockingly kind things for each other. I’m always moved by the spirit and warmth, and a book set here is not glorifying poverty but understanding it. Her book lifts spirits and makes us feel connected to others in a way that few stories do. Ginanne’s language is crisp, decisive, fun, and authentic.Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times correspondent, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Love, Africa  

Ginanne Brownell’s book is an inspiration, a hope, a voyage into a way we can make the world a better place. Using classical music as a vehicle for life change, she shows us how music is a way of altering children’s lives—from misery and poverty to beauty, to empowerment, to radical change. This is surely a book for our times, as a vision of how we can spark impetus and make the world better for the next generations.Janine di Giovanni, award-winning journalist and author of The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East

Ginanne Brownell has written a riveting account of this group that is so much more than an orchestra. She shares the good times when music and community have triumphed, and also the challenges encountered over the last decade, writing unflinchingly of the lows as well as the highs. Theirs is a phenomenal story and this an important and insightful record of it. — Lucinda Englehart, Nairobi-based award-winning film producer

For nearly twenty years, I’ve followed Ginanne Brownell’s forays into foreign cultures with huge interest. Every time she leaps on a plane and delves into the society she studies on arriving there, she finds fascinating, complex scenarios. Particularly at a time of roiling unease and political hand-wringing in the West, the story of how classical music can transform the lives of poor Kenyans is a much-needed window on hope, grit and change.” — Carla Power, two-time Pulitzer finalist and author of If the Oceans Were Ink and Home, Land, Security

Ghetto Classics is a vivid, haunting portrait of a community’s strength and resilience in the face of daunting challenges. Ginanne Brownell brings a nuanced, insightful eye to the stories of the chil-
dren and adults for whom music is both a refuge and a source of hope. While Nairobi’s biggest garbage dump is dirty and dangerous, Brownell’s encounters with those living beside it, and making their livings from it, are deeply affecting—and ultimately inspiring.” — Beth Gardiner, journalist and author of Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution


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