In Conversation With: The Beating Heart Project

In Conversation With: The Beating Heart Project

When Hugh Tracey (1903–1977) made 35,000 field recordings across Sub-Saharan Africa between the 1920s & 1970s, his intention was to reveal the beauty and complexity of this music to a world that saw little value in it. Today, almost 90 years later, Tracey’s bid to preserve the music of Africa for future generations lives on. Beating Heart has connected the International Library of African Music (ILAM) archive with contemporary producers, making fresh sounds for a modern audience. Building from Tracey’s vision, the income generated from the sale of this album will be used to assist people in the areas where the music was originally recorded.

Hugh Tracey

Beating Heart – ‘Malawi’ is the first in a series to be released by Beating Heart, and features RudimentalLuke VibertMachinedrumKidnap KidThrowing Shade, My Nu Leng, Clap! Clap! and many more. All of the artists have given their time for free to create this special album that will kick-start the roll out of a new development model that will provide nutrition and income now and in the future for the people of Malawi.

We sat down with the founders of Beating HeartChris Pedley and Olly Wood to dig a little deeper into this truly fascinating project and to find out more on how it all started.


How did you come up with the concept for Beating Heart?

Chris: The Beating Heart journey began when my wife told me about her great uncle Hugh Tracey who recorded African music between the 1920s and the 70s. I was keen to tell my friends (and the world) the story. In 2014, Ollie and I met at an orphanage in Malawi and soon after devised Beating Heart, where we could enroll artists to remix the archive and raise money and awareness to assist communities where the music originally came from.

How did you come to find out about Hugh Tracey and the ILAM archive?

Chris: My first encounter was a picture on my (then) girlfriends’ bedroom wall that Tracey snapped of the Mbuti people in the DRC listening back through a massive speaker to a recording that he had just made. They had a look of wonder on their faces, I was intrigued and went onto research within the family and finally visited the International Library of African Music (ILAM) in Grahamstown in 2014.

The first country you visited with the project was Malawi, what was it that drew you there first and foremost?

Olly: I was at a festival in 2013 and somebody put a pair of heart-shaped glasses on me, they incredulously turned every point of light into a heart. I sort out the source and found out that the money raised from the sale of the glasses supports the Love Support Unite foundation and their orphanage in Malawi. I became involved, helping to brand and market what are now called Love Specs. I visited Malawi a few months later and instantly fell in love with it. It’s a devastatingly beautiful place with the warmest and friendliest people you’ll ever meet. It’s also a great antidote to the nonsenses of the self-serving, consumer-based lifestyle we champion in the west. If we calmed down a bit we could see that through our privileged position of economic superiority we really can help effect positive long-lasting change in countries like Malawi and finally break the cycle of extreme poverty.

What drew you to the music of Africa in particular?

Chris: When I first heard the old recordings of Malawi I found them quite unpalatable, but in time I grew to love the many abstract sounds and rhythms. I’m intrigued by the story telling of African music and the complexities of the cross rhythms and tonalities that sound so different to homogenised Weston pop music. I feel lucky that this story dropped in my lap, it happens once in a lifetime. This music has changed my life path and throughout the many challenges of the projects 5 yearlong development, I had to believe that the Hugh Tracey story chose me.

Olly: Like Chris, when we were going through the source material I thought ‘this is going to be a hard sell.’ But listening to the resultant album and what the producers have achieved, I’m amazed at how much I like it. A lot of the dance genres have stagnated in recent years. Fusing sounds and influences from different cultures and time periods has always moved the energy forward.

How did you choose the remixers who feature on the album? How did they approach the production process?

Chris: Ollie and I approached friends and connections. We selected 35 tunes from the archive and gave them to our artists to sample the parts that excited them. Some used short vocal hooks, some used 16 bar loops, we gave them free reign to mix up the tracks, the brief was very open, mainly just be creative! When you have a captivating story and project that offers an opportunity to help people using music, most musicians get really behind what you trying to achieve. The artists involved loved contributing to be a part of a historical legacy, remixing ILAM for the first time and discovering new sounds. The charitable element is the lynch pin that gives Beating Heart a social responsibility.

Olly: I told the artists to make sure they summoned the ancestors when they got in the studio. The ancestors definitely have a vested interest in this working.

Hugh tracey 22

What are your ultimate ambitions for the project?

Chris: We aim to make one album for each of the 18 countries where Tracey recorded, raising money and awareness for relevant causes in each area, and pointing people to the richness of African music and culture from yesteryear and today.

Tell us more about the ‘Love Support Unite Africa’ Foundation?

Olly: Money raised from the album will help fund the Love Support Unite Foundation (LSU) in implementing ‘Garden to Mouth’ (G2M) – a sustainable food garden, at the Mkunkhu school in Lilongwe, Malawi. The school LSU helped the community to build, will have 10 hectares in total, enabling them to feed all 600 children by 2020. Attendance dropped from 600 to 300 in November due to famine and LSU began implementing a long lasting plan that could ensure that pupils, both now and in the future could remain in education.

Not only is this Garden totally eco-friendly it’s also a lifeline for the community. It will introduce nutrition to the school syllabus and with an outside classroom – become the link between garden, mouth, nutrition and education.

Further money raised from the album will be used to replicate the pilot at other schools in the country and it is our long term goal to have G2M become part of the national curriculum.

Which African artists have been striking your fancy recently?

Olly: Sonye and Drew Moyo from Malawi, who both contributed to the album are doing great work. Mbongwana Star (DRC). Black Coffee, Culoe De Song, Goldfish, Spoek Mathambo, Daev Martian all from SA. Fuse ODG (Ghanaian).

Is there any artist you would like to get involved for future projects?

Chris: We aim to work with many top artists from around the world but mainly we hope to incorporate the awesome talent that Africa has to offer. We are making strong connections with some great SA artists for the next project, we want to spread the word of the ILAM archive to Africans and once again shine a light in the spirit of HT.

What is on the horizon for Beating Heart?

Olly: We’ve just started sorting through the Hugh Tracey recordings for the next album, ‘Beating Heart – South Africa’, that will be supporting the Women’s Legal Centre over there. We’ll be out and about DJ’ing the music at UK festivals over the summer including Glastonbury, Wilderness, Larmer Tree, Port Elliott and more. Then we’ll be back in Malawi in September for the insanely beautiful Lake of Stars Festival. Join us!

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