Arts, Culture & Media

What happens when you mix culture, talent, health and passion? Music

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Poet and beat maker Marta works on a track outside the Beat Making Lab studio in Addis Ababa.

When we brought the Beat Making Lab into Addis Ababa, it found a ready group of participants.

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(This is a blog post by Pierce Freelon about the Beat Making Lab project. Read to the bottom to find more about our partnership with Beat Making Lab.)

We worked with 16 students that came from throughout the city. There were singers, poets, percussionists and pianists — some of whom had a background in traditional Ethiopian music, while others were interested in popular music. 

There was such a diversity in experience, passion and personality among our students that it proved, at times, challenging to get everyone on the same page. Differences in opinion arose when I asked the students to write and share stories and poems about their experiences with health — part of our collaboration with sponsor Intrahealth.

We wanted to use music as a tool to engage young Ethiopians in dialogue. Too often, non-profits and NGOs, with the best of intentions, descend upon communities with an agenda or strategy that doesn't consider local perspectives.

Intrahealth helped recruit participants for our two-week project by working with local youth groups. We wanted to know what young Ethiopians thought some of the priorities and strategies of a global health organization should be. The writing exercise yielded some impassioned dialogue between students about access to resources and health-related challenges the students faced.

Over the weeks, as the stories and poems transitioned into lyrics and songs, we finally reached a creative consensus. But that final creation isn't the whole product. The entire creative process is being chronicled weekly through our PBS Digital Studios web-series, and will culminate with a presentation at the International Conference on Family Planning in Addis Ababa Nov. 12-15.

Editor's Note: Over the next few weeks we'll be checking in with the team at Beat Making Lab to find out how the project in Ethiopia is progressing. In mid-November, Levitin and Freelon will head back to Ethiopia to make a presentation about the project at the International Conference on Family Planning. It's the first time the pair have ever returned to a city where they set up a lab — and we'll be able to join them. Check back each of the next few Wednesdays for updates on the Beat Making Lab.

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    Gelila stands outside the Beat Making Lab studio in Addis Ababa.

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    Gelila records Laura Hoemeke from IntraHealth outside the Beat Making Lab studio in Addis Ababa.

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    The crew shoots video from one of our final songs at the Ethiopia Beat Making Lab.

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    Apple Juice Kid teaches Beat Making Lab students how to record during one of the sessions in the studio.

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    Mohammed Kassa, one of the local coordinators, helps organize the Beat Making Lab in Addis Ababa.

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    Pierce Freelon stands with the Beat Making Lab students outside the studio in Addis Ababa.