At 24th Street BART plaza Thursday afternoon, the syncopated beats of an Afro-Haitian percussion ensemble mixed with the typical street noise of the busy Mission corner. Making this public space a little bit more funky was Beats on the Corner, a program designed to impart lessons in music—with a side of politics—to local high school students.
As more than a dozen students sporting white shirts and Haitian flag bandanas, played snare drums, cowbell, traditional Cuban horns, and a maraca or two, the crowd was certainly feeling the art part of Beats on the Corner’s mission. More than a few people danced to the seductive beats.
In the duration of their 50 minute, high-energy set, students danced, chanted, and sang out loud to the rhythms of traditional Haitian tunes.
“The youth will continue the 40 years of percussion history in the Mission,” said Alfie Macias the group’s instructor following the performance. For Macias, a professional percussionist who has trained in Brazil, teaching students the art of drumming is vital part of preserving the culture of the neighborhood.
According to Macias, sharing the culture of the Latino and Caribbean music to the neighborhood’s young people will help, “keep the Mission alive no matter what.”
Beats on the Corner is one of a series of summer internships provided by the Youth Arts Exchange, a non-profit that provides arts internship opportunities to public high-school students. Indeed, the organization’s mission goes beyond just teaching music but also starting conversations about “gentrification, community identity and public space.”
The Beats on the Corner crew devote 100 hours of time over four weeks to studying music, performing a different style each week, either: Puerto Rican, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Haitian, and popular Cuban.
In addition to studying music with Beats on the Corner, Youth Arts Exchange students can also work with artists in architecture, photography, printmaking, or percussion, all with an eye to the theme of gentrification. In a sense, the group performing at the corner of 24th and Mission were much more than just a summer band, they were a cultural emissaries.
Beats on the Corner plays their last show this week. At 24th Street Bart and Galería de la Raza, at 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. respectively. The group will be playing popular Cuban percussion with guest artist Carlos Caro.