With a new episode launching today, the PBS Digital Studios series “Beat Making Lab” completes its second video and music travelogue, in which musicians and educators Stephen Levitin (a.k.a. producer Apple Juice Kid) and Pierce Freelon explore beatmaking and electronic dance music in Portobelo, Panama. The entire six-part “Beat Making Lab: Panama” series is available for viewing here.
Developed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Beat Making Lab is a program that brings the tools and techniques of digital music-making to young musicians in developing nations. In the northern port city of Portobelo, Levitin and Freelon established a Lab at La Escuelita Del Ritmo, where more than a dozen youth worked with local and international musicians to create original electronic beats and songs. There, Levitin and Freelon engage in a beat-making battle with the help of a young accordion prodigy, whose traditional music is sampled, chopped and digitized into a variety of styles. (Viewers can try their hands at mixing the accordion riffs online by downloading the music through the video.)
Next the Beat Making Lab team produces a music video featuring young Panamanian artists inspired by Los Diablos y Congos, a traditional festival where citizens dress as devils. Then they visit a Portobelo prison where the clink of handcuffs and the drip of a faucet become the basis of music made in a rehabilitative program. Episode four comprises one of Beat Making Lab’s most unique music videos, featuring vocals from Panamanian artist Yomira John recorded during a post-celebration electrical blackout, using a laptop powered microphone and the light of glowing cellular phones. Finally, in today’s installment, the series takes viewers behind the scenes to detail how every part of the Panama beats were made; and brings Yomira John–and the song she developed in the Lab–to the Shakori Hills music festival in North Carolina.