In the Loop
Student Stories : Oct 30, 2020

Award-winning musicians collaborate with faculty & students to produce albums for activism

By Kristian James (BMUS & BSPR '21)

Dr. José Valentino Ruiz, UF assistant professor of music business and entrepreneurship, collaborated with fellow Latin GRAMMY® award-winning artist Ben “Mister G” Gundersheimer to create two albums this summer focused on social justice and ecological activism. 

Ruiz recruited several UF music students and faculty to join in what he called a “musical mission” to create these activism-based albums in a time of social isolation. 

UF student Pamela Mireles served as an integral violinist and vocalist for the albums. She began her master’s at UF in 2017, studying violin performance, and is now pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree

Mireles said she was responsible for layering harmonies with the violin. She can also be heard shouting words in the background of some of the tracks, a stylistic practice common in Latin music.

She first heard about the opportunity from Ruiz, who advises her DMA project. Ruiz supplied her with the necessary recording devices to assemble her very own home studio.

She said it was the first time she was able to participate in a solo recording session. 

“It was challenging,” she said, “but very successful.”

Mireles had worked with faculty before, but this was her first time being recruited by a faculty member. After she submitted her clips, Ruiz offered her several words of encouragement, much to her excitement.

Mireles is only one of the contributors to the two albums, which in total united musicians from across five continents and fifteen countries and territories, according to Ruiz. 

“One of the powers and possibilities of music production practice is the result of a project that celebrates migratory, cross-collaborative, and entrepreneurial expressions of each individual involved,” Ruiz said, “ultimately, creating a work of art that can serve as a model for a unified world.”

Both albums developed organically through video calls and emails exchanged while sheltering in place. Ritmo y Rima is a bilingual album co-produced with Carlson Barros, an iconic Brazilian music audio engineer and GRAMMY® Award Winner. 

The second album, Children of the World, was co-produced with Mister G, who is the leading artist for the Global Citizen Ensemble, and Donna Scott, record label executive and co-chair of Women in Music (Texas chapter), and a leading activist for Black American women music producers.

GRAMMY®-nominated bass vocalist and outspoken racial justice advocate, Armand Hutton, brought his own musical heritage to the album, underpinning Earth Beneath Your Feet and This Is The Way with rhythmic call and response and rousing gospel harmonies that feature UF Health Arts in Medicine musician-in-residence Cienna Alida.

The albums also feature the voices and perspectives of children from around the United States. In the track Put On That Mask, children urge adults to take the pandemic seriously, using a rhythmically-fused arrangement of U.S. pop music, Cuban cha-cha and Puerto Rican plena. Washing Our Hands rallies around the new normal through a funk track featuring Lee Levin and aims to turn hand washing into a celebratory ritual. 

Ruiz said these albums use metaphoric lyrics that aim to serve two voices: First, children, who will be drawn to the captivating songs that explore subjects like animals and dinosaurs, playing together and ecological-activism; and second, adults, who will appreciate the wide range of musical styles, the educational value and the themes of unity and hope. 

“When listening beyond the lyrics, one discovers a narrative of the exponential power of music to dissolve boundaries, an overarching theme I teach in my Social Impact of Music Entrepreneurs course,” Ruiz said. “And a theme infused within the expressed mission and leadership of both UF School of Music and UF Center of Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship.”

Ruiz also worked with two additional faculty members who he said provided tremendous support and creative insight for the albums. 

"Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies Scott Wilson played commercial keyboard with cleverness and sophistication," Ruiz said, "and Adjunct Assistant Professor and Area Head of Guitar Studies Dr. Silviu Ciulei brought his world-class Mediterranean & Middle Eastern tinges to the repertoire."

For the UF students involved, the opportunity has offered great exposure. Mireles said several musicians and sound engineers have reached out to her, asking if they could contact her if they need a violinist.

“I hope other musicians throughout the music building get this opportunity,” she said, encouraging students who are presented with them to “go for it.” 

Ben Elgan, a DMA student, also participated both as a recording engineer and trumpeter, displaying stylistic proficiency of Mexican, Latin Jazz, and Big Band traditions, according to Ruiz. 

Bachelor of Music student Derris Lee, who played keyboard and percussion for the albums, was equally delighted to be part of a “real-word experience” through his studies at UF. 

“I love that students and faculty can work together inside and outside of the classroom to develop content that celebrates our distinctive stories as individuals and serves as a manifesto for a better world,” Lee said.

Dr. José Valentino Ruiz is an assistant professor of music business and entrepreneurship, the head of the music business area in the UF School of Music, and an affiliate faculty member of the UF Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship and Center for Latin American Studies. Learn more about his GRAMMY® Award and nominations and how he brings expertise to the classroom

Listen to the albums: 

Ritmo y Rima
Children of the World

Learn more about the UF School of Music's Doctor of Musical Arts program here