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What if you had about a month to put together a show for the biggest music festival in Boston with over 150 musicians from 90 different countries to promote unity through music? I recently sat down with Emir Cerman, Jonathan Williams, Jason Parks, and Mirek Vana of Rhythm of the Universe, a global music collaboration platform based in Boston with significant contributions from Berklee College of Music.
ROTU, as it’s referred to, was founded in 2010 and the group recently had their biggest show to date at the Outside The Box Festival on the Boston Common on July 13th to an estimated crowd of 10,000. During the rehearsal phase for this show I served as an assistant for the Technical Director (Williams), however, to gain more knowledge on how this innovative team of musicians really got their start, I sat them down at an after-show celebration and asked Cerman (Director) about how his vision started, and how he came up with this idea.
“I thought, there are so many different cultures at Berklee.. I really wanted to do something different, I really started searching…I literally just woke up and the idea was right in front of me; what if everyone became a musician?” Emir said with a smile on his face. He and Vice President Jason Parks went on to describe how they initially met in a Boston Market restaurant to have their first conversation about Emir’s vision for this project and the unifying message he wanted to get across.
“How should I approach this massive project that needs a lot of people, and a lot of musicians? Well, I scratched Berklee’s back, so hopefully they could scratch mine.” Cerman went on to describe how he approached the Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Berklee and described his intimidating meeting, which thankfully in the end got him time in the Hilton Ballroom in Boston where with Berklee’s help, he gathered 78 musicians from 78 different countries to contribute their respective lyrical parts to the ‘Anthem of the World’, an 8 minute song composed by Cerman meant to be exactly what it sounds like: an anthem for the world. The song is the group’s signature song in a way. With over tens of thousands of YouTube views, flowing from African, South American, European and Asian themes, the anthem accurately portrays the diversity that is so prevalent in ROTU. On top of support from Berklee’s faculty, the team described how they used connections they made while they were students, finding enthusiastic students who were on board with their vision. Without the connections Emir made upon arriving at Berklee, none of the core members of his production team would have been involved, or things at least would have been very different.
“We really went through a lot of people that gradually fell out of the loop, but the core group that stayed are the ones who are still here,” Parks said as he described how the production team came to fruition. As I asked around the room I quickly learned myself how each member came into their very significant role in the group. Williams’ knowledge of gear and passion of electronic music earned him his spot at Technical Director, and possibly the most significant role besides Cerman’s, President Mirek Vana’s job in the scholarship office at Berklee, and later at Institutional Advancement led to him becoming Emir’s mentor, and subsequently the President of ROTU.
“Mirek has found us so many opportunities and resources, he’s so valuable to us it’s not even funny,” Jason revealed about the Czech Republic native. During their preparation for the Outside the Box Festival, Vana secured them a rehearsal space in Berklee for June and remainder of July until the show.
“They have the artistic vision, and I have the resources to make it happen, that’s what I’m interested in,” Mirek proclaimed. Jason Parks noted how he got his start with ROTU as well:
“I had founded a group called the Film Scoring Network when I was at Berklee, and Emir came to one of our meetings. He came up to me after the meeting and asked me to go to lunch, and he told me this idea of having all these musicians and cultures come together and having it somehow have to do with a music video. From there we kind of decided on a basic concept of the video (that would become the music video for Anthem of the World) and from there we found more and more people and made it this big, international collaboration.”
Other key players in the group now who weren’t at the interview were Simone Scazzocchio (composer, conductor), and Gabriel Peguero (press and media). These two are still just as active as ever in day to day operations and both played a key role in the Anthem of the World video. I asked them next about how exactly they approached the songwriting process for the Anthem.
“So I had finished the song start to finish, but there were no lyrics, so everybody there had to write lyrics…the most important part was that all those people had to be in the same room together; all those people, all those cultures collaborating together. What we did was we had them sit together in a way that they never would normally, countries like Palestine and Israel. There were seven different tables, each with a supervisor (to make sure they were on the right track). Seventy-eight people wrote the lyrics to that song”
Jonathan then chimed in:
“We wanted as many different cultures as possible to be put into the core of the song itself…we wanted to not only have people express themselves individually through the lyrics they wrote, but also to add in the elements of their different cultures”
“But not losing the unifying message of the international body,” Parks added. Emir then told his favorite story from writing the Anthem of the World:
“There’s always one story that kind of gets me emotional. We had one Israeli tabla player and one Palestinian musician (sitting at a table together). These guys for many years talked online, and never had the chance to see each other or play with each other. They made it their goal in life to one day meet each other, so they both went to Berklee, met each other, played a recital together, and then they collaborated for the Anthem of the World.” Stories like those are common among this unique, diverse group.
Wrapping up, and looking towards the future Emir expressed his vision for the show in the coming years:
“I want to see this massive collaboration platform. This is an experience, and what we’ve done this month, what these one hundred plus musicians have experienced, you have to show other musicians, because they all deserve it, it’s what makes us completely different than any other company.”
“We’re growing a global level of entertainment. We don’t just want the US to experience this, we want the whole world to experience this both live and online, and in interactive ways. We want to branch out and grasp people,” Parks added enthusiastically. Mirek then went on to say:
“For me, we’ve revolutionized entertainment. I think we’re just gonna change the way people interact with entertainment as an artist, or non artist. I always thought music could change the world, but until the technology was developed, it was only a dream.”
“Luckily we’re all nerds and we love technology!” Parks added again. Williams then acknowledged how fortunate they were to have Berklee as a home base of sorts:
“We were lucky enough for all of this to start at Berklee, where we had all this diversity right in front of us. Not only was it all in one city, but it was all in one two mile radius. Think about all of those amazing musicians that are out there right now, that we have never heard of, and think of what’s going to happen when they hear about us, they’re going to show the whole world that they exist, that they have something to contribute, and they can do it through music”
ROTU has left a lasting impression on me as well as the thousands of people that witnessed their ‘Welcome to Earth’ show on the Boston Common. Their truly unique vision seems like it will revolutionize parts of the music industry, and promote unity through the universal language of music.