I’d like to introduce you to Steven, Franky, Jhon, Brian, Pedro, Diego and Angie, also known as the recently-incarnated music production crew Bogobeatz.
Since the New Year, I’ve been facilitating a digital production workshop series at la Fundación Familia Ayara, a Bogotá-based organization of “hip hoppers changing the world.” The objective of the project has been to provide the students with weekly music production workshops at no cost, focusing on utilizing free downloadable production software like FL Studio and compatible software plugins. Ultimately, the goal of the program is to break down the basics of music production into weekly components so that students can walk away with practical skills to work on their own original production projects from their homes or from wherever they can access a computer setup.
My hope is that the students would leave the series confident that they have a baseline for creating their own music with whatever resources they have available to them, and also secure in knowing that they have the ability to seek out any other resources they might need from the vast array of free tutorials or forums hosted online. In the end, I want for them to believe in their ability to create quality music representative of their interests and inspirations, with a confidence in their own resourcefulness.
Over the several months of classes, we’ve been working toward the culminating project, which is a compilation album that assembles tracks contributed by each student in the group. During the actual workshop sessions, I typically present a demo of whatever technique we focus on for the day (this ranges from song structure to editing samples to incorporating effects), and then leave some time for students to practice the technique with the group or to share out tracks they have been working on independently. Since we share my laptop in the group sessions, it has taken more than a fair amount of dedication and personal time devoted by the students in their own homes to experiment with production and to move toward producing complete tracks; in some cases students squeezed in session time during breaks at work if they didn’t have computer access at home.
About la Fundación Familia Ayara
On any given day, the Familia Ayara cultural center located on the Av. Caracás in the heart of Bogotá is full of creative energy, whether it's a crew of break dancers practicing their moves to classic tracks, packed hip hop open mics on a Friday evening, or political strategizing among community leaders for protest actions criticizing the controversial removal of Mayor Gustavo Petro from office earlier this year. Weekly programming at Ayara comprehensively covers the five essential elements of hip hop culture: graffiti, emceeing, DJing, breakdancing and knowledge, and projects also extend to street fashion with an Ayara line of street clothes and slam poetry en Español workshop series. I was able to connect with Don Popo and Brenda from the foundation early on, who immediately welcomed the proposal and helped me set up a space in their programming for the workshops.
According to their mission statement, la Fundación Familia Ayara “is an organization of young afro-Colombians and mestizos organizing social, cultural and entrepreneurial activities based in hip hop culture, with the goal of empowering and improving opportunities for high-risk youth belonging to ethnic minorities in Colombia.” Inspired by the New York hip hop movement of the eighties with its strong commitment to social change, the group of young bogotanos abandoned the street to become artists. In 1996 they launched their first micro-enterprise, a clothing line exclusively designed for Colombian hip hoppers, and used earnings to begin funding artists and organizing social, cultural and educational initiatives based in hip hop culture. These initiatives later grew into the Ayara cultural center, which opened in 2008, as well as projects focusing on locales affected by poverty and violence such as Cali, Medellín and the department of Chocó.
Friday night hip hop open mic at Fundación Ayara.
To give a sense of the social impetus that pushed for the creation of la Ayara, the organization says it best on their Facebook page: “La Familia Ayara was founded in 1995 in Bogotá by a group of afro-colombian and mestizo youth and rap artists...in the era of narco trafficking cartels, fast money, corruption, prostitution, bombs, assassins and the calls for 'social cleansing,' of revenge in the context of war that’s plagued Colombia for over 40 years. This was a time when values and principles were confused, that youth from night to day became rich...and in the eyes of the children of the disadvantaged barrios there were two examples: you’re a thug and you get rich young, even though you’ll probably die young...or you study all of your life to end up working as a taxi driver; for this reason, the youth of la Familia Ayara chose to make hip hop.”
Designing the production workshops
Every week a group of ten or so students arrive straight from work or their other commitments to settle into learning for a two hour block. At the beginning of the sessions, they had varying levels of prior experience but mostly would be starting from the basics. I organized the workshop series with a weekly breakdown of topics covering technical processes and techniques as well as cultural components that surround hip hop and music production. We started the series with an overview of a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) production system, which is the format used for FL Studio as well as other commonly-used systems like Reason, Ableton and Logic.
Some examples of workshop topics included basic elements of a standard hip hop beat, which provided a focus on elements of a drum kit and drum patterns, an explanation of song structure, which broke down the basic elements of a song between the intro, verse, chorus, break and outro, or how to create an original drum kit from other drum kit packs or original samples. The workshops also extended to methods of incorporating original samples recorded on handheld recorders or cell phone microphones so students had a set of tools to resample and reinvent colloquial sounds from their immediate surroundings.
I’ve also had the pleasure of welcoming Bogotá by way of Barranquilla producer B-Clip of the electro-champeta duo Boom Full Meke as guest professor for a class. B-Clip walked us through his personal history as a producer, taking us through experimentations with cumbia and bolero clips, to his more recent project shared with Monosóniko as neo-picoteros, all the way back to his beginnings producing the beat for Otra Cosa, a long-distance collaboration between Venezuelan hip hoppers Nk Profeta and American emcee Tony Touch:
FL Studio view clip from BClip's Otra Cosa
As we’ve continued working together, it’s been really amazing to see the interests and talents of each student become more and more apparent. Moving toward the compilation, we’ve shared in the process of ‘artist development,’ in the sense of allotting time at the end of every class for students to share and critique each others’ tracks. Students arrive at class with tracks they’ve prepared at various stages of development and their varying stages of comfort level with the production techniques, which I think is a huge testament to their willingness to be vulnerable for the sake of their progress and the collective growth of the group.
Here’s a track that was shared by one of the students, Franky, in one of our classes in early April, which samples tango track Tomo y Obligo by Carlos Gardel over a classic hip hop beat:
We decided to go all-in for the process of creating a full package for the compilation release, which resulted in a collaborative project between the students. Diego offered to help photograph the group for the album cover during an afternoon shoot at the Parque Nacional (original photo below), which was later illustrated by another student, Brian (the finished product is at the top of the article, and work-in-progress below):
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the final product of this hardworking, talented crew, and invite you to have a listen to the compilation available for streaming at their Mixcloud page!