Green Door Studio in Ghana and Belize 12th September, 2014

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On the September 26th The Art School will be taken over by Green Door Studio, an analogue recording hub and education space based in Finnieston that was recently described by Resident Advisor as “the beating heart of the Glasgow music scene.” Green Door’s nurturing of acts like Golden Teacher and Whilst, along with the sonic quality they have facilitated with such group’s recorded output, is already well documented. Less has been written about the studios continual commitment to youth education and cross cultural exchange, an ethos that is born out in the polyrythms and instrumentation that have come to be associated with the studio’s sound. As Laurie and Oli Pitt from Golden Teach make clear, there is a practical as well as musical element to such exchanges, “We have both been involved with projects at the Green Door since we came to Glasgow, both as participants exhausting every possible course they offered and also helping out with other courses and workshops they run for younger kids: doing drumming lessons and helping with recording sessions. Its all very informal and everything’s usually repaid with favours or recording time which we’ve recently been using to record all the Golden Teacher EP’s.”

The 26th will see Green Door launch a new youth music project that sees this exchange travel across to the Lebeha Drum Centre in Belize and Tafi Atome Cultural Village in Ghana. Three collaborative groups of young people (each with 2 Glaswegians, 2 Ghanaians and 2 Belizians), will each write, perform and record 3 songs that will then be released world-wide on Optimo Music and presented at a final Celebration Performance at the Glasgow African Caribbean Centre in May 2015. The young people will explore what the Pitt brother’s term, “ the obvious links between contemporary western dance music ( all music to some extent) and traditional African drumming” through workshops in Ghanaian and Garifuna Drumming, Electronic Music Composition, and Basic Recording, Overdubbing and Editing Skills, while making use a brand new mobile recording studio.

Surmised in typically succinct form by the Pitt brothers, this is an opportunity for some particularly, “Bangin tunes made by enthusiastic young people.” We spoke to Emily from Green Door about the project in general and this fund-raising party specifically, which sees Optimo’s JD Twitch, Golden Teacher, Whilst and Ghana Soundz all taking to the Assembly Hall stage in support.

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Hi Emily, what’s the context of this project?
We’ve been running West African drumming workshops after school in the studio in conjunction with Glasgow City Council and had the pleasure two years ago of studying Ga drumming under Master Drummer Ni Tetti Tetteh at the Kusun Cultural Center in Accra, Ghana. At the start of this year we also went to two drum schools in Belize to study Garifuna and Maroon Creole drumming in the villages of Hopkins and Punta Gorda. On our various travels we came across Lebeha drum school in Hopkins and The Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary youth group in the Volta Region of Ghana.

In Hopkins we were blown away by the talent and exuberance of the local youths whenever they jumped on Lebeha drum school’s drums (they also ran circles round Stuart when he played football with them on the beach). On Chinese New Year, when the whole village was out partying, we were introduced to Ted Mckoy, who had recently returned home from studying in North America and was talking about setting up a non profit community interest recording studio (similar to what we do at Green Door) as part of the Nituwana foundation that he runs to promote the unique local culture in Hopkins. Meeting Ted gave us the inspiration to try and work out a way that we could link what we do at Green Door with some of the youth projects that we had encountered.

The previous year in Ghana we had had the privilege of watching the young people in Tafi Atome put on a mesmerising Borborbor drum and dance performance and had come away keen to try and find a way of returning and documenting their music (the community has no access to any recording facilities). We had also been working in the studio back in Glasgow with young musicians from the likes of Golden Teacher and Whilst who were making live analog electronic music which often incorporates traditional West African rhythms along with other musical elements from all over the world.

The exciting prospect of seeing what would happen if we paired up some of the young musicians that we work with in Glasgow with the young musicians in Belize and Ghana got Emily working on a funding application to try and make it happen. And when we discussed the proposed project with JD Twitch who runs the Optimo Music record label (and is behind the Autonomous Africa EP’s) he told us that he’d love to release the results on record.

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Have Green Door has been involved in exchanges before?
This is the first international musical cultural exchange project that we’ve run as a studio. But a passion and interest in how the musical elements and rhythms of traditional West African music have fed into the music of both North and South America (Bluegrass, Blues, jazz, R’n’B, Funk, Rock’n’Roll and Hip Hop in North America, and the likes of Cumbia, Soca, Rumba, Samba and other Afro-Latin American musical styles in Central and South America, not to mention the many genres of Afro-Caribbean music), had lead to us travelling to Africa and Central America to study traditional drumming styles.

What could you tell me about them? Are you still working
in the same areas or with the same communities or groups? What has happened since?

The drumming that we studied in Ghana alongside Laurie and Oliver Pitt from Golden Teacher and Julia from Fem Bitch Nation lead to us teaching after-school drumming workshops for young people from the Finnieston area of Glasgow. And some of the young people have since also participated in other Green Door workshops and projects including this cultural exchange project.

What was learnt, exchanged and created?
This project will focus on exchanging rhythmic styles between Belize, Ghana and Glasgow—Laurie and Oliver Pitt will be lading workshops in Ghanaian rhythms for the young people in Belize and Garifuna/Kriol rhythms in Ghana. We will also be bringing our portable electronic music studio and offering workshops in electronic music. In addition, we will bring a mobile recording studio (using a Tascam DP03 8-track, mics and monitors), and leading recording skills workshops.

We are holding the fundraiser so that we can furnish each youth music group with their own mobile recording studio, so that they can continue to write, collaborate, and record music well after the project finishes.

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How has it affected your personal practice as a musician and as a studio?
African polyrhythms and time signatures are incredibly fun to play around with. And their addition as live percussion can transform relatively simple drum machine loops into organic hypnotic tracks. The extra percussion we’ve picked up along the way has been used on a surprising range of musical styles recorded in the Green Door. We’re also probably the only recording studio in Glasgow that has a set of Kpanlogo drums from Ghana and they’ve appeared on quite a few recordings and releases that have come out of the studio.

What kind of differences have you already seen them do? What are the intentions with this current project?

Alot of our current work focuses on encouraging young people from different backgrounds (whether it’s cultural, economic or social) to collaborate with each other musically. This happens, for example, in our Sonic Youths project, where we teach music production skills to young musicians not in employment, education or training—in these workshops you might get a drummer who is deeply entrenched in Death Metal pairing up with a classically-trained piano-player and another who only ever makes music with synthesizers all trying to bash out a Bo Diddley cover for a recording project. It’s surprising how fast people let their guard down and open their ears to new ideas and approaches to music.

We also run a project called Supergroups, where each month we select an unsigned band who get 5 days in the studio to record, mix and master a 4-5 song EP. Then, every 4th month, the 3 bands from the previous 3 months form a “Supergroup,” who get 2 days to rehearse and write, and 3 days to record and mix. I’ve seen rehearsals where it starts with 6 people who have never met and it’s a bit awkward…then you plug in a guitar and someone starts toying with a Birthday Party riff, everyone’s ears perk up and then the next thing you know they’re off…and 8 hours later I had to kick them out of the studio when the rehearsal time ran up!

So for this project, we thought we would broaden the horizon even further and encourage young people living on other ends of the world to form a band (well, 3 bands) and make a record. Myself, Stuart, Ollie and Laurie are volunteering to be the mentors for the project, with one of us working with each band (which has 3 members from Glasgow, 2 from Ghana and 2 from Belize).

How do you think the project affects the music community of each area involved (including Glasgow)?
We are encouraging the young people to interact with other musicians from diverse backgrounds, forming both musical relationships and friendships throughout the year. I think it also helps the young people to gain a greater understanding of their own community, while broadening their appreciation of other styles of music.

I think it’s also interesting to see how musical styles have travelled and transformed. For example, the Kriols of Belize are originally of West African and Scottish/Irish ancestry. You can hear West African rhythms clearly in their style of drumming. At the start of the project, I made a compilation CD for all of the young people, featuring music from Ghana, Belize and Glasgow (including Boroborbor, Lebeha’s Drum Troupe, and Glasgow-based artists involved in the project such as Golden Teacher and Whilst)—it was interesting to hear the threads of influence in all directions (and the project hadn’t even started yet!).

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What is the Lebeha Drumming Center?
Lebeha runs a drumming school and accommodation in the Garifuna village of Hopkins, Belize. They also work with the local young people, running a youth group called Tuteme Band. More info can be found here: http://lebeha.com/

What is the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary?
Tafi Atome is one of the most well run ecotourism projects in Ghana. Proceeds are reinvested in the community, including the recent construction of a medical clinic (unfortunately closed due to lack of medical staff). They also run a youth music project.

Why is cultural interaction important in the creation of music?
Well… music would be pretty boring and repetitive if there was never any cross-pollination of style. As lovers of music, we live to discover and explore new styles and incorporate them into our own work. As leaders of workshops and recording engineers, we like to “shake things up” and get people to think outside of the genre of music they think they are making—once you can break it down to an abstract series of sounds (and stay away from categories and classifications…are you trying to be an artist or a librarian?), people act more intuitively, and, ultimately, make weirder, wilder music.

What kind of possibilities do you think this project can create?
We hope this is the prototype of a project which can be repeated numerous times with youth music groups from all over the world. We would like to establish a network of youth music projects, so that they can communicate with each other, share musical styles and lessons, and collaborate on future recordings.