Last week, indieBerlin caught up with Michaela Bóková, Label Manager of Heartcore Records.
A lifelong fan of music in her native Czech Republic, 3 years ago, after hitting it off during a chance meeting in Paris, she and Kurt Rosenwinkel, a well-known jazz musician, decided to form Heartcore – a record label with a difference. This difference being their philanthropic spirit.
Alongside their day-to-day operations as a label, they also travel to various locations across the world to help provide underprivileged children with their first leg up into the music industry as part of their Heartcore For The World projects. These projects see Bóková travel to places as far as Africa and India to live with the orphaned children and help them create a song which they then sell on their website – with 100% of the proceeds going back to the children.
To be part of this movement, Bóková left her life behind in the Czech Republic, moved to Berlin and currently juggles a phd back home with these Berlin-based ventures. In fact, when we caught up with her in her favourite café in Kreuzberg, the Five Elephant, she had just finished a 12-hour journey to return to Berlin after attending university. Despite this, she was able to enthusiastically talk to us about her charitable music projects abroad, her innovative work with Heartcore Records here in Berlin, and the process overall so far.
Hey Michaela, so can you explain to our readers exactly what Heartcore Records do?
HeartcoreRecords is an independent label established at the end of 2016 by the jazz guitarist and composer, Kurt Rosenwinkel, who was born in Philadelphia but moved to Germany 11 years ago. After releasing 10 albums, he decided to start his own venture and named it after his album that was released in 2003, called Heartcore. The idea of the label is to release his own music, the music of his friends and people who really create music from the heart and with full dedication, hence the name.
What sort of projects does Heartcore get involved in?
So next to the common releases, we do music videos and release digital music, but for a very special project, we created a series of adventures called Heartcore for the World. Which is basically me, travelling to different countries to help underprivileged children to access music, by recording them, releasing their songs and in this way, earning money to support their music education.
How did that element of the organisation get started?
Actually, first, the idea came out of my head when I just started doing management for Heartcore Records. I started to feel that I wanted to be useful during the holidays and I didn’t feel like being a tourist anymore, and around this time, I met an interesting woman who told me about her brother being in Africa and I was like “Woah, this is interesting”. So I started searching for an organisation where I could go and help children. At the time, I didn’t even know it was going to be a music project, but then when I was calling to different places, I found an orphanage with a music studio inside in the middle of Zambia, which was crazy!
Oh wow! What happened then?
Of course, I didn’t wait. I went and asked Kurt if I can leave for one month to Zambia and he asked me what I was going to do. I told him I found the studio and he told me to make it a Heartcore project, as this was so clearly who we are and what we do and of course, that is what I did and this is how it started.
How has it progressed since then?
Well, first we did Heartcore for Africa and it was so exciting and so amazing. We connected different artists from the jazz world to help us overdub the track which we recorded in Africa. Then I decided to go the next year to India and do the same thing at a school but this time with different artists. And now, I just came from Ukraine at another orphanage. We have decided to do 10 of these songs and make an album which will be due for release in 2027 which we are really looking forward to.
I don’t expect to get anything back because the thing that I’m already doing is getting something back- the feeling and the experience
What motivates you to make that charitable sort of work happen?
I studied classical singing and part of that was also pedological and about how to teach children. Plus it was also my hobby start put myself with children as it is just so fun (she laughs), and I guess there is a little bit of a philanthropic person in me. And of course, wherever there is music I’m doing it (laughing) So yeah, those three things together I am able to do, grew in this into this project naturally.
Great! So you said about Ukraine, Africa, and India, is there any other countries you are planning to work with?
Absolutely. The plan has been made for one more year and I am already considering the next one. But next August I am travelling to Bahia in Brazil, and I am just in the progress of organising all the partnerships and connections. I always partner with certain institutions that support children and then I find another institution in the city which is musical. Then I connect them together and this is how it happens.
What was the process involved in acquiring these partnerships? Was it difficult?
Actually, no, it wasn’t difficult. If you go somewhere offering fun and help then you hardly get refused. If you really come with pure intention when coming to those places then it is no problem. I don’t expect to get anything back because the thing that I’m already doing is getting something back- the feeling and the experience. Also, when I hear about an organisation, it is through somebody and the more projects I do, the more people know about me and suggest places and then I go for it directly.
And so, the network is just gradually being built upon over time?
Yes. I remember the first project was challenging. I had to create a whole portfolio and convince complete strangers that I’m the one, but then once I got the first project done, I took it to another organisation and they were just like yeah, you know, feel free! (laughs) Once you have the material in your hand it is way easier.
What are some of the main organisations you look to work with?
I search for orphanages mostly because I can live with the children. I spend one month there always and it’s very intense being with them in the same house and you build different relationships. Then the recording is more like a family celebration and you feel like you have become part of the family and it feels great. It’s hard to leave!
How long do these projects take?
I spend the whole of August, so one month, but then there is the production process of course, and the time I spend with the materials. It takes a bunch of time to send it to other people, editing the video, fixing pictures, and writing press releases. Then after a few months, I can release the thing and then I am collecting money for the next ten months and then I send the money or buy instruments for the children.
Now, just going back a little, how exactly did you and Kurt get in contact with one another?
Errm.. so I was into music since I was very little, but before I met Kurt, I was studying music management at an academy in the Czech Republic and I had no idea about jazz. In fact, I still don’t have any idea about jazz (laughs) No, I’m better now!
But yeah, I went on a trip to Paris with my friend and we met Kurt in a bar at like 3 in the morning and he was a bit familiar to me as some friends of mine had spoken about him once. I got interested and just went to talk to him just because I was curious and we became to be friends.
Then he asked me to book him a show in Prague, which I did. He came to Prague and told me that he was going to start a label and that I should come and found the label with him and then I move to Berlin. I did, and now I have been here for three years!
Oh, wow, so it all happened pretty quickly then?
Yeah, I met him in March and I was moving to Berlin in September.
That’s really cool! So how successful would you say the projects been so far?
I mean our albums are always successful. But we really love our music, so we are successful just to see and hear what we release for ourselves. Of course, the business side is always a process but we are not afraid and regarding the beneficial projects, they are very successful from different sides. The first success is when I’m leaving the place and the children are really happy! Not that I’m leaving (laughs) but that they had somebody taking care of them and spending time with them- that is the first success, but then when we earn money from our fans through their songs, and we are able to support those kids through the money that is a success too.
Are there any other Heartcore causes you would like to pursue?
When I started it was very open, so I thought about Africa and working with children immediately. After I came back though, I thought maybe I could do something else but then I went to India and it was also children and so I decided to keep this album for children. I am considering when this one is done; I could change the concept and go for any social problem. It’s a concept that is so flexible and I can do anything with it.
Our motivation is to spread good vibes and self-confidence from music
Is there anything you think you need to accomplish more and get to the next step?
Absolutely, there is always something. Such as growing fanbase, sustainability, more employees, more concerts, more releases, promotion, a bigger network. Even in areas where we consider ourselves big, we can still grow. Of course, we are only three years old.
What exactly drives you to achieve this and accomplish more progress?
I would say I’m very curious about how the world works and how the people are especially. As even when I go to these places, I spend the whole month in that house or school or somewhere and I just enjoy getting to know the people very deeply. Then, in the end, there is a song that I can listen to every day and a video that I can watch whenever I want. Its quite a motivation for me.
Fantastic, so what has been the most memorable experience for you?
That’s the hardest. My last 3 years have been insane (laughs) and it’s very hard to choose one, but the whole thing began by meeting Kurt in Paris and finding this universal connection we have where we love working with each other, so yeah, it’s probably that one – meeting Kurt in Paris. Because whatever happens afterwards it grows from this energy and I really adore this energy and I believe we will continue.
Lovely, so that is the most memorable, what has been the most rewarding?
I probably say it is the music itself, that’s easy!
Ok, so what’s your dream for the future?
That Heartcore can keep helping people, not only those underprivileged, but also those with talents. Especially as this was why we started in the first place, but you never know, with those Orphans, there may be some who release a whole album with us. Our motivation is to spread good vibes and self-confidence from music and tell people that they can do stuff. Especially with people who don’t have others around to tell them that. It’s a great platform where we can change people perspectives into thinking that they can believe in themselves.
Bóková is clearly a very motivated and caring woman, who was joyous and open about all her experiences, and we wish to support her in all her future endeavours. If you are interested in listing to the Heartcore Around The World projects, or any other aspects of their label, then you should head over to their website here which has a ton more information!