I remember meeting Ben on the second day of class. He missed the first day because he had to take a 12-hour boat from his home in Savusavu, to get to where the beat-making workshops were being held at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. Our host, Dave Lavaki (also known as rapper Mr. Grin), introduced Ben as a talented pianist, singer, and community activist with a background at the Berkeley College of Music.
Ben was a tall, humble brother with a quiet voice and a firm handshake.
He was one of a dozen young men who had converged at USP's Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies for a two-and-a-half week electronic music production workshop: The Fiji Beat Making Lab.
During class, Ben played us a song that he recorded the previous month with youth from his hometown. Some of the kids were orphans, and others had parents who were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Ben explained that the kids were viewed by the community as outcasts and troublemakers. Very few of them had access to mentors or constructive outlets for creative expression. Ben saw a need and stepped in.
He started conducting music workshops and writing songs with the kids. He took them into a church for two days as they developed song concepts and wrote lyrics, then recorded the kids in a makeshift vocal booth comprised of old mattresses. Ben had his students create percussion instruments out of sticks and cans, metal roofing, rocks, and bottles—anything that made a "clink" sound. These improvised instruments created a percussive backbone to the track.
He played us the song, which was gritty, charming, and damn good!
I almost wondered what he was doing in the Beat Making Lab. He seemed to have everything he needed musically, and was already sharing his incredible gift with his community.
What I realized in the weeks to come was that Beat Making Lab was creating a unique space for Fijian producers like Ben, Tropic Thunda, Mr. Grin, E3, and others to build with one another. There were so many creative sparks flying between artists that knew of each other's work but had yet to get together in the same space. I don't know if it was karma, or kava, but the synergy was infectious.
Ben is the type of musician the world needs more of. Bringing the worlds of art and activism together—he's an artivist.
Beat Making Lab builds studios in cultural centers around the world and trains youth musicians in the art of beat making. This post is part of This Week in Beat Making, a weekly series on GOOD—follow our adventures with new episodes here every Wednesday.
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