Mr. Z
OffBeat Magazine|March 2020
Matthew Zarba is Upbeat Academy’s unflappable rap principal.
AMANDA

I’m sitting in the back seat of Upbeat Academy Executive Director Matthew Zarba’s car, riding along with him as he picks up a student at NOCCA. “Hey Mr. Z,” the student says as he gets in the front passenger seat. It’s a glimpse into the inner workings of Upbeat, which provides free after-school music instruction classes to middle school and high school students. More specifically, instructors teach kids hip-hop and electronic music production techniques; class sizes typically range from five to eight students.

We’re on the way to the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, the historic building on North Rampart Street which is now an education and community center that also houses the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation’s Heritage School of Music. There, Upbeat Academy—which was founded in 2013—conducts its business in a classroom setting, albeit a classroom set up more as a lab. Computers running programs like Ableton line two of the four walls, while various music stands, keyboards and other instruments pepper the space. Zarba—who says he sees his role at Upbeat as a kind of “rap principal”—remains involved in classes, sitting in the back while instructors handle the nuts and bolts of various lessons ranging from how to sample the sound of a tweeting bird to adding risers to an EDM beat.

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