UNC Professors Bring Beat Making Lab to Africa
Following their successful border-hopping Beat-Making Lab in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this past summer, Apple Juice Kid (Stephen Levitin) and Pierce Freelon (MC for The Beast) are featured in a short documentary released in collaboration with okayafrica and the Congolese non-profit Yole!Africa that co-sponsored the beats lab with UNC-Chapel Hill.
The three-minute documentary capsulizes the duo’s July trip to Goma, and we see Levitin and Freelon working with 16 young Congolese beatmakers and rappers. One of them beams, “when I’m in the studio, I’m feeling like I am in heaven,” and if that doesn’t warm the heart-cockles, check to see if yours still makes beats at all.
“Our goal here in the Congo was to create a sustainable studio,” Levitin says, and the kids’ “motivation was unparalleled. These kids really wanted to work and put in the hours.”
The lab provided a much-needed boost to Yole! Africa. The cultural center aimed at Goma’s youth had been robbed three times in a one-year stretch and had 15 laptops stolen among other items, according to africanhiphop.com. It’s clear from the video, however, that you can’t stop a good idea.
“When the instructors leave, I will continue researching as well as teaching others what I have learned,” says one determined student.
The mini-doc is the first release culled from the trip among many more scheduled. They include a full song and video created by the Goma class, as well as more songs and videos created while in the Congo.
The trip was an extension of the UNC course Levitin founded in the fall of 2011 with Professor Mark Katz. As we reported last May, Tar Heel Tracks (free download here) the first compilation from the final projects of students in the UNC Beat Making Lab, featured samples from a wide swath of N.C. music, including The Avett Brothers, Yahzarah, Lee Fields, Lost in the Trees and Hammer No More the Fingers, among others. The class teaches students sample-based music production, history and entrepreneurship.
In addition to co-teaching Beat Making Lab, Levitin and Freelon founded ARTVSM, a company that merges the worlds of art and activism. ARTVSM is developing an open-source beat-making software for similar labs across Africa and the global south, with the goal of creating flexible software for international use, thereby encouraging collaboration and global community. —John Schacht