These Beats Will Change the World


Music has always been a tool for social change. Critical Beats, a project that promotes preservation of the Amazon rainforest, pairs producers with indigenous artists from the area to, “spread awareness about the critical state of our most cherished environmental resources and the communities which act as caretakers of these places.” Artists including DJ Spooky and L.A.-based electronic musician Jupit3r have remixed tribal sounds and rhythms to create mellow, danceable beats for a new album, Critical Beats for the Climate.

Flavorpill talked to the Jeremy Jensen, co-director of the program, about the dire state of the rainforest and the role of music in activism. Read our conversation, find out more about upcoming Critical Beats events, and learn how you can get involved after the jump.

Flavorpill: How does the Critical Beats program work?

Jeremy Jensen: Critical Beats is a 100% volunteer-run non-profit that uses music to raise awareness and funds for Amazon rainforest conservation. We’ve traveled to the Amazon to record indigenous music, prayers, and words, to be shared with notable and talented music producers from all over the world who remix the recordings, adding their own flavor. The results weave together ancient sounds, rhythms, stories, and prayers alongside modern beats and electronic wizardry, producing a cross-cultural call to action. We want to make social/environmental justice as easy and enjoyable as downloading your favorite music.

FP: Why is the preservation of the Amazon such an urgent cause?

JJ: Over 57% of the world’s rainforests, the lungs of the planet, have been destroyed. Scientists estimate that at current deforestation rates, 90% of rainforest ecosystems will collapse in the next 10 years, and in 40 years there may be no rainforests left. Deforestation is also the leading cause of global warming, and loss of the Amazon could end life on the planet as we know it. Even if such a catastrophe is avoided, current deforestation is putting thousands of species of animals and plants at risk — 137 species are lost daily. Additionally, indigenous tribes that have existed in the Amazon for millennia are being uprooted and forced from their homes, and their ancient and priceless wisdom of plants and medicines are being lost.

FP: Why do you feel that music is the right vehicle to promote this message and raise awareness?

JJ: Music is essential to human expression and communication, spanning time, race, culture, etc. It is a language that everybody speaks, and it is capable of motivating and opening the heart beyond words. It has the power to heal and connect people at a soul level. It’s the perfect medium for the prayers, hopes, pleas, and inspiring messages that our participants are trying to convey.

FP: What locations in South America does Critical Beats focus on?

JJ: Most of our initial recordings come from Peru and Brazil. Recently, however, we were invited to work with leaders from all nine Amazonian nations in an attempt to help preserve their culture and share indigenous wisdom through new outlets.

FP: Do you feel that in mixing original tribal rhythms with beats, the integrity of the indigenous sounds is preserved? What do you think the fusing of these two sounds does to illuminate the native tribal music?

JJ: Yes! Critical Beats has helped create some extraordinary music, which exemplifies what we can accomplish as human beings when working together. Everyone takes this very seriously, understanding the problems we are facing. As a result there is a deep sense of respect and purpose, which definitely comes through in the music.Additionally, because the new songs may have a different beat, they may be used for different purposes: but this is precisely the goal of the initiative. Fusing the sounds together shows the collaboration of the eagle and condor nations and highlights some of the most inspiring aspects of both cultures.

FP: You only ask for a very small donation (one dollar per track or ten for the entire album) to download Critical Beats for the Climate. Do such tiny amounts of money make a difference?

JJ: Absolutely! We desperately need to overcome the belief that the environmental crisis is too big or that our efforts don’t make a real difference. It’s the little things that we do every day that matter most! As of 2007, iTunes had sold 2.5 billion songs since it began four years earlier. Imagine channeling just a fraction of that revenue towards environmental and social justice. It’s also not just about the money. Exposing people to the Amazonian cultures and enhancing awareness about the needs of the Amazonian peoples creates a bond and relationship of true care that is priceless and will make the real difference in the long run.

Readers in the Los Angeles area can party for the cause with Critical Beats at the Rainforest Action Network’s 25th Anniversary Party in Santa Monica tomorrow night, and at Irvine’s Lightning in a Bottle music festival, May 28-31.