Critical Beats and Amazon Voice are co-operative organizations that focus on Art in Service by bringing awareness to environmental and cultural issues in the Amazon. They team up with indigenous tribes of South America to allow them to have a voice in the larger world. Currently, both non-profits are focusing on Kantza, a kickstarter project that gives a voice to the Shuar tribe in Ecuador. The goal is to collaborate with the Shuar by giving them the tools and knowledge to create their own documentary, free from the spin of any person or corporation. Eventually, these tools and technologies will allow the peoples of the Amazon to document their own cultures and knowledge while giving them a growing voice to the rest of the world. Please donate to Critical Beats and Amazon Voice’s Kantza: Deep in the Amazon a Story is Waiting to be Told.
Critical Beats collaborates with many different organizations in the Amazon through an expansive catalog of album releases – What organizations have you donated to through this initiative? What do you look for when going about the selection process of organizations you hope to align with?
“We actually operate two distinct non-profits. The first is Critical Beats, which operates like a traditional record label, working with artists to create releases of which 100 percent of the revenue is donated to causes. Critical Beats was started first, and opened the door for communication and collaboration directly with the indigenous communities of South America. In travelling down there, the team has been in discourse about what the tribes are requesting most, and they have expressed a huge desire to express themselves in their own way, and to have a vehicle by which to communicate who they are and the pressing concerns of their communities. After hearing this, Amazon Voice was set up, which (among other things) works to build media centers in tribal communities, offering equipment and on site training in video and audio production technique. This opens the door for them to archive their culture, teach their wisdom, preserve traditions, and communicate about the loss of land and habitat that is affecting them so deeply. The Critical Beats releases at this point are providing revenue directly for the Amazon Voice initiatives.
The Shuar tribe seems to hold a special place in the heart of the Critical Beats family. How was this connection forged? How has your work with the Shuar tribe helped to bring the needs and challenges of the Amazon culture to the global conversation? How has the culture, medicine and unique story of the Shuar tribe inspired your musical exploration?
“Jeremy and Shena Jensen who started Critical Beats were first introduced to the Shuar tribe, and specifically the Tawasap community in Ecuador. There have been two trips down to the village now, and a third coming in September, so we have been working with Tawasap to model a curriculum and pilot project for the media center. The advantage is that the Tawasap community has already had lots of contact with the outside world, with members touring internationally with their music, etc. so the learning process and exchange of information is very easy and flows. When I started the work on Rainforest Reveberation, I had not visited South America yet, so I was just putting out this piece of work into the world with a loose concept of what it would mean to be in service and a defender of the rainforest. Now that I work with directly with the community, and have constant communication with them, it’s as if I am working for my family. The village has become a sort of second home, a spiritual home as it were, so when I am doing work for Critical Beats and the fundraising projects, I am doing it for people that I love, for land that I love, for a cause that is personal for me. This next trip down I will be doing a lot of recording and collaboration specifically around ceremony and sacred songs, so I expect that there will be a body of work that is strongly affected by that experience.
We(Solpurpose) are fully captivated by the powerful positive vibrations Critical Beats has been offering musically and as activists of change. A host of international producers have given their energy to this auspicious project – honoring the integrity indigenous musicianship with well composed conscious electronic interpretations. Can you speak toward how the pairing of these seemingly vastly different genres of music takes form? What inspired the fusion of tribal shamanic elements into contemporary electronic music of this nature?
“The inspiration comes directly from the indigenous peoples desire to be in community with us. They are not asking for our “help”, they are asking for our friendship and our spiritual bonds. We need their vision and understanding of how to caretake the natural world as much as they need collaborators in the struggle against deforestation and cultural loss. One of the beauties of electronic music in general is that it is music that creates a sense of space and atmosphere, which allows for vastly different elements to be woven into the story in a way which makes sense.
The most recent release, Spirit of La Selva, awakens a beautiful connection to the primal purity of the deep Rainforest. What core feelings and intentions were you experiencing putting together this compilation? How did you approach the artists with your vision?
“I had just returned from 3 weeks in Ecuador when I began putting together this compilation, and seeing the destruction of the rainforest and the issues the people are facing first hand made it VERY real and imminent. In general, I’ve been operating under a “If not now, when? If not me, then who?” paradigm. I don’t believe we have time to wait to take action and make a difference. Life is short, and the situation with the rainforest is critical. I just approached artists and expressed my experience of working with the people, and the situation as I saw it, and thankfully people were really receptive!
The Amazon is rich in ancient medicine practice and the natural ways of shamanic healing and transformation. Do you feel there is a synergy in the development of conscious music with traditional ceremonial practice?
“In our culture we have a drastic separation between the concepts of “art” and the things we consider sacred. This distinction doesn’t really exist in indigenous cultures. Human’s create beauty through music and words the way that an eagle flies, each doing the thing it was meant to do. In indigenous communities, life/music/ceremony/nature are all wholistic modes, and they can not be separated from each other. When you sing a song of a jaguar, you are singing the jaguar. Not a representation of the jaguar, the thing itself. If all things are connected, then there is no conceptualization or abstraction of the created thing into art, or separation from the being that is addressed through song and ceremony. If one is engaged in an authentic ceremonial practice, then music is not a means unto itself, it is an integral part of that practice.
What is your relationship to the mystic elements of nature when approaching musical composition?
“In a lot of ways the natural world is what keeps me sane. To me, it’s all mystical, the trees, the flowers, the food, the dirt, the worms, the compost and the water. Even the manipulation of these things is sacred, though dishonored by our ceremonial ignoring… the concrete, the plastic, the metal and decay. All matter is living and sacred, though the purity of the untouched natural world is awe inspiring when you begin to have the slightest smidgen of a notion of how large and vibrant and sacred the things you are approaching are, and we really only have perception of the tiniest spark of that.
What are your long term aspirations with the Critical Beats Project? What goals to you wish to accomplish?
“The long-term goals are to keep going steady in the way that we are going. Reaching out to more artists, creating more funding for the direct action projects with the communities that are reaching out for collaboration. Of course, I would love to see more higher profile artists catch the vision and feel passionate about bringing some art forward in service as this will help create awareness and inspire more people into action.
How do you feel this project speaks to the greater challenges we are facing in the Amazon as a species?
“It’s really about awareness and perception. I feel that in some ways, the environmental movement is at a disadvantage at the present. In the greenwashing of corporate culture, the pressing need for direction action and accountability has become diluted. Every product on the market is trying to be “environmental”, and we’re surrounded by it so much that people are lulled into afalse sense of safety about the current state of the situation. Ultimately, our way of life is completely unsustainable, even with our recycling and green initiatives, and we require a major spiritual revolution of consciousness and awareness of our actual place in the world for that to begin to change. The truth of the matter is so massive and scary that I think it’s hard for people to metabolize that information without being completely overwhelmed and left in a state of inaction against odds that seem insurmountable. The path that we’ve chosen for Critical Beats is one of celebration. We celebrate the beauty that still exists, the music, the culture, the people… The hope is that in bringing joy and celebration through music and culture that people will feel moved to support the projects out of a genuine desire to see beauty continue, rather than a sense of guilt or despair. It’s an important distinction, and definitely something that I think about every step of the way with packaging design, marketing, and how we represent the projects to other people and artists.
As we shift from a rule based society to a choice oriented and society – a metta reflection of what the Amazon tribes have been cultivating for countless generations- what do you believe are the most critical steps we must make as a people to sustain our sacred resources and honor the natural balance?
“If we are actually aware of our own sacred resources, and the traditions quietly sleeping in our backyards waiting for a time of spiritual fertility, we wouldn’t be so obsessed with “obtaining” the thing in other cultures that we want. There is a danger of co-opting another cultural tradition, especially because traditions are completely inseparable from the ground and the trees where they have grown, and because unfortunately we have a cultural standard of aiming to possess that which we do not have. Spiritual tourism is as destructive to indigenous ways of life as normal tourism. I believe the most critical step we can take are recovering our own sense of wonder and awe at the divinity of the world that we live in, the local world, the plants in our apartments, the people on our streets, and those individuals who are presented in our path. If we can uncover, or recover, a viable spiritual tradition, then maybe we could be worthy of approaching a living indigenous culture as equals. As an organization, we are constantly trying to diffuse this illusion that we are “helping” the tribes. We (our culture, our country, our corporations, our way of life) are destroying them and everything they care about. Our spiritual tourism is bringing commerce and competition into the realms of their sacred expression, quite frankly muddying up the waters a bit. Since we don’t as a culture know how to listen to small things, they are asking for access to our tools so that they can have big voices that transmit on the tv/radio/internet as well, hoping that maybe we will hear them and become friends instead of enemies. So, we’re not “helping”, we are hoping to collaborate. For me personally, I am trying to find a way to repay the incredible gifts that are shared so freely with me, spiritual gifts, gifts of culture, and the most sacred gift of friendship, of being able to share a meal, of being able to share a dream, of being able to share in the heartache and the hope in the face of this soul crushing beast of chaos and destruction which is advancing every day through the rainforest.
In this juggernautic technological age, many people are downloading and sharing music and media free through countless internet portals. Some view this as a creative renaissance, yet for donation based initiatives this can pose a real challenge when pirating is so easily exploited. How does open source sharing affect projects like Critical Beats?
“I will be honest, it’s a bit frustrating to work so hard to create music where there are no artists being paid, no label bosses taking home a paycheck, no careers being built, and have that appear on all the file sharing sites instantly. I tried for a minute to discuss this with some of the websites, who insisted that they were doing me a favor by liberating my music from the clutch of the “evil record labels”. When I pointed out that 100 percent of the revenue was going directly to support indigenous communities, and they were only liberating funds directly from the people that actually needed them. I got various responses from “F**k the rainforest” to “Music should be free, no matter what”. The level of ignorance, and in many cases, conscious self-deception about what they are actually doing is kind of astonishing. Its one of those situations which is so frustrating for me I have to ignore it and focus on the creation of positive energy, positive music, positive change.
Kantza is a film project envisioned and produced by members of the Shuar nation, indigenous caretakers of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Through collaboration with professional video and audio technicians the tribe intends to share the beauty of their culture as well as the struggle to preserve their homelands. Furthermore, the skills gained by making their own movie will offer on-going opportunities to document culture, share wisdom and engage the global community in ways that support social and environmental justice
Where is Critical Beats journey heading next? Any new special projects brewing on the horizon?
“So many amazing artists have stepped up to be a part of the label, its inspiring, and a wonderful antidote to the struggle of music piracy! I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag quite yet, but there are many releases in the works, some of them coming very soon!