Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at LoveMaineRadio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.
Mark Curdo: For me when I was young, my earlier years, I was exposed to such a variety of music at a very young age that I think for me, that kept my mind open and kept an appreciation for music that I’ll always maintain.
David Thete: We are tomorrow’s generation. We have ideas to offer to the world, to grow and to just to make this world a better place. There’s a lot of bad things going on, and kids don’t really have a good platform to express themselves and say,
“No, these are the things that I want to change,” and usually it’s adults who are in charge of these groups who are giving the rules, “Okay, we’re doing this today,” and Kesho Wazo is a place where kids can just be like, “Okay, I have this idea. How can we make it come to reality?” Kesho Wazo is the youth’s imagination meeting reality. That’s how I would describe it.
Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you’re listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 288, Community Connectors, airing for the first time on Sunday, March 26, 2017. Within our community we are fortunate to have people who are particularly good at making and maintaining connections with others. Today, we speak with Mark Curdo, who has hosted a yearly Mark-a-thon to benefit the Center for Grieving Children since 2008. We also speak with musician Isaiah Taylor and David Thete, founder of Kesho Wazo. Thank you for joining us.
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Tickets for Maine Live, a day of insightful talks by the business and creative people shaping the future of our state, are on sale now. Join host Dr. Lisa Belisle and 14 mesmerizing speakers for a day that will inspire conversation and connection. This fourth Maine Live is on Thursday, March 30 at USM’s Abromson Center. Go to MaineLiveEvent.com for more information and to purchase your tickets.
Lisa Belisle: It is my great pleasure to have with me in the studio today, Mark Curdo. Mark Curdo has been hosting Mark-a-Thon, his annual week long radio show fundraiser for the Center for Grieving Children since 2008. He now runs creative branding and promotions for Shipyard Brewing Company and hosted his ninth Mark-a-Thon this past December. Thanks for coming in.
Mark Curdo: Thanks for having me. Thanks.
Lisa Belisle: Thanks for having a name that really lends itself to a “thon.” I think about Lis-a-Thon. It doesn’t have the same thing.
Mark Curdo: Truth be told, I never would have, I didn’t come up with that name. I never would have. That’s not like me to….
Lisa Belisle: You’re too humble for that?
Mark Curdo: Yeah, and I don’t know if it’s right to say that something you did was a humble move. It’s not humble to say you did something, right? Yeah, someone else came up with that name.
Lisa Belisle: That’s okay. It’s all right.
Mark Curdo: Just the idea, what it was all about. Someone said, “Hey, how about like Markapalooza, or Mark-a-Thon?”
Lisa Belisle: You’re into branding, so now you can understand why it’s an important thing.
Mark Curdo: That’s it, and if it ain’t me, it ain’t happening, I guess. Tough to have a Mark-a-Thon without the….
Lisa Belisle: Without the Mark of the Thon.
Mark Curdo: Involved I guess. That’s kind of kept me locked in a little bit, too.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about the Center for Grieving Children. Why did that become important to you?
Mark Curdo: Putting the benefit together at first, my thought was working in radio at the time, full-time, using the power, the gift that radio has to reach people to be so impactful, to really use it for good. There’s charity things that radio and media does, but it just seems sometimes like it’s ho hum and it’s just by the book and it’s just two hours on a Saturday afternoon at the American Red Cross. That’s great, but it just seems like it’s going by the book. I wanted to do something that was big and really stopped the town, literally. We came up with the idea of what it would be. I pitched this in studio, lock myself in type of thing. After about a year of back and forth with my boss, we locked it down. Then the thought was okay, who’s this going to benefit? There’s just so many great causes around here. There’s so many great charities, benefits. My thought was, this would be best to maybe help an organization that needs a little bit of that extra push, that people sort of know but not really on a massive level.
It was suggested to me by Herb Ivy, who’s my boss over at the radio station, “Have you heard of the Center for Grieving Children?” The name I’d heard, but I didn’t know much about it. I looked into it, did some investigation on it, and instantly I was like, “This has got to be it.” For me, the connection was, instantly, was that I’ve been fortunate to have my family growing up, not losing. It’s just myself and my folks, but having my parents still to this day, I couldn’t understand what these people were going through, losing a child, losing a parent, brother, sister, grandparent.
For me, this was my way of showing how appreciative I was to have my family and to act and to be able to grow and live with them and support these people that, when they have a loss like this, they don’t know what to do or which way to move. It’s really the basic gist of it, it’s just, I guess, more appreciation rather than really understanding what they’re going through.
Lisa Belisle: I understand that. For years I’ve donated to the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, the Center for Grieving Children, other organizations that I have never really needed and feel grateful that I don’t need them, and I’m knocking on wood virtually, because I think it’s the idea that there’s just a pain that I have no access to and I’m so glad that thus far I haven’t.
Tell me about the Mark-a-Thon itself. You locked yourself in a studio.
Mark Curdo: Yeah, it’s a great opportunity for me to be able to just not leave the radio station for five days and be able to play all kinds of music. There’s a selfish angle to do it, too, just loving music. Basically I’m in the radio station for five days straight. I’m in the studio for 102 hours. I’m on the air 21 hours a day, live. People can call in and request anything they want to hear. The format for the radio station, WCYY, is out the window that week. You can request Neil Diamond, Chuck Berry, Metallica, Beethoven, whatever it is, but as long as you make a donation to the center. Pay to play. Essentially that week it’s legal.
Aside from the music, it’s also five days that people get to hear about the center and its services, because they really serve a host of different concerns and cares for families going through loss. They have a widowers’ group. They have their multicultural program, helping folks coming to the country who are leaving war town countries and situations that we can’t even think of, coming here and having to live and deal with their situation here. They deal with a whole different variety of things. That week is not only fundraising, it’s hugely important, but it’s getting the word out about what these services can do for folks. The services are free for as long as people need them, and for whenever they need them, because people grieve in different ways and at different times. Some people have a loss, they might not really start their grieving process for five years, ten years. The center is there to assist them when that time is there, and without cost and without concern of having to pay another bill.
We do that, and we have families come in and speak a little bit about their experience there. I pre-record a whole bank of interviews ahead of time to run throughout the week, because it’s a long week, and it’s the only thing that’s on the air. It’s just the music that these people are choosing when they donate and these conversations and businesses that come in as well to support the cause. It’s a long week, but it’s been an amazing nine years so far, especially to hear, each year hearing from people that have been listening to it along the way, and who have come to need the services of the center. I’ll hear from someone, “Oh, I’ve been listening to it for years. Last year we needed to go to the center. We lost my child. We lost our mother, or whatever, our brother, sister, and we needed the services of the center. If I hadn’t listened for years, I might not have known about this place.”
Yeah, it’s with me for good now at this point. It’s, I hear about it from people all the time, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to know that it’s made an impact in all kinds of ways.
Lisa Belisle: It sounds like it requires some advance planning. If you’re doing interviews ahead of time, and you’re bringing people into the studio.
Mark Curdo: Yeah, I spent about, I spent probably about a good two months of solid prep for the week, for the one week, and I’d be… I should say it’s even more than that, leading into it. Because a couple years ago we came up with a auction component to add to it. We have a website where people can bid on items, autographed items, experiences, tickets, all kinds of things, gift certificates, and the money goes to the center. It’s kind of like an online auction that plays throughout the week. A couple three years ago I started pulling items together for that, and that’s become a major part of it. This last year alone, the web page for the auction raised I think over $12,000 just on those items alone. That puts me in another place every year of having to get as much of that as possible, to get these items and these things that people will find enjoyable to bid on to support the center.
That, and yeah, interviewing the families, setting up guests, everything you hear on the air throughout the week I produce and I orchestrate and do all the work at the radio station, but the time flies when you love doing something. Those two months fly. The next thing you know the week is over, but it’s enjoyable. It’s enjoyable.
Lisa Belisle: How much have you managed to raise?
Mark Curdo: As of this past year, last year was our biggest year yet. Each year luckily, it’s increased. That’s the one thing, being this close to doing this kind of charity work, something that continues year after year, the one thing I’ve noticed is that you monitor how it comes along year after year, which I want to stay away from. I just, because all I can do is what I do. The results are sometimes out of my grips, and I can only just do my work, but as it goes on you have to, you follow the numbers. Each year for me it’s like, can we at least beat last year? That’s just the one thing. This past December, the 9th year, we did just around $67,000. That’s brought the total to, I think it’s somewhere around just over $350,000 in nine years. It’s pretty neat.
Lisa Belisle: Being that this is going to be your decade celebration, do you have anything special planned for this year?
Mark Curdo: I guess I’d be revealing by answering this question that we are going to do a 10th year, but you know, it would just be awful and awkward to stop at nine, wouldn’t it? Just all right, that’s it. Yeah, the plan right now is to go forward to do 10 and make it a decade, which is great timing because the center turns 30 this year. It’s the 30th anniversary for the center, so to be there for those years, it’s special.
A couple ideas. I already have my theme, I think, lined up, which is something close to me and special to me. I got a couple things I probably won’t share at this moment, but yeah, 10th year you got to do some extra fun stuff. We’ll do that.
Lisa Belisle: We’ve asked you to be a part of our upcoming Maine Live, which is, it’s a big deal for us here at 75 Market Street, Maine Magazine, Love Maine Radio, and because we only ask people that we feel very strongly have an important story to share. It’s been a commitment for you though, hasn’t it?
Mark Curdo: It has. It’s just, I guess, just in who I am, I guess, I immediately say, “Well, why me? Is this something I should be a part of?” Or, “Really, me? Why me?” It’s been an experience just kind of self-evaluating a little bit and realizing what I could offer and why I should be involved, I suppose, but I think for me being on the radio and people hearing my voice and hearing from me everyday for, coming just starting my thirteenth year, I mean, I’m not there full-time now, but, and I’ve written in publications in town and been part of stuff with you guys.
I feel like maybe people have heard enough from me or maybe there’s not as much special to talk about. I’ve shared enough with people over the years, although I never really get personal on the radio. It’s just not, that was never my style, but I just feel like maybe people have had enough of me. They’ve heard my voice enough. It’s dealing with a little bit of that and realizing no, there’s maybe still something that I can talk about here. Maybe there’s an angle here that hasn’t been presented on the radio or in print.
I suppose that’s probably just getting a little more personal about me and about growing up and who I am now and how I’ve become to be how I am and whatever I am. I think in that, that’s something I’m interested to share with people because, I think, for me it’s not a crazy or a wild, special story, but I just I think I had good upbringing. I think I learned great lessons, and I learned great values growing up that maybe at this time, this day and age, this world could be worth sharing with people again or exposing again, or having people maybe bring things back to some basics in life right now. I think maybe I can help pass along some of that.
Lisa Belisle: You grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Mark Curdo: Yes.
Lisa Belisle: You said its changed a lot since then.
Mark Curdo: Grown, grown quite a bit. In good ways, and the strip mall situation is insane. It’s so much business going on there, but it’s right across the border, so you get people coming from Massachusetts shopping tax free, and I think that’s always been a pull for Nashua for years, but Nashua is, yeah, it’s a growing city. It always felt a little bit more like Massachusetts. It’s a little bit busier than a New Hampshire city, just because there’s always been so much going on there and such a huge population, and obviously being right there on the borderline. You’re kind of into Massachusetts, and you draw from a lot of those folks that come in and work in New Hampshire as well, too, and vice versa.
No regrets. I didn’t have much of a say, because I was younger, but no regrets. It was great growing up there. I think it was a good city and a good time for me and then when it was time to get up and out, then I started making moves and exploring different parts of the northeast, and we’d always had ties to Maine with my family. My mom, her side, her aunt and uncle owned a bed-and-breakfast in Kennebunkport for years. My mom and her sisters, my mom’s one of nine, so her and her sisters would come up and they’d be chamber maids and work there throughout the summer. She’s always had ties to the Kennebunk area with her aunt and uncle living up there.
Then in the early 80s we started to vacation in the Ogunquit-Wells area. Then my family has had a place there for some years. Then I ended up going to college at St. Joseph’s college in the early 90s. I’ve kind of, I feel like I’ve been very Maine-based, I’d say, for a good part of the past 25 years, plus, I suppose, a little bit of time away. I took this little side step to New Jersey for a minute, work in music, but yeah, that ran its course quick. It was nice to be down there for a minute, to be around the craziness and to be a part of things that I would never be a part of up here, but it was nice to get back to New England, especially northern New England. I’m more close to Massachusetts, seacoast, New Hampshire, Maine scene. For some reason it’s more New Englandey to me. Being close to the water, I enjoy that.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about your musical taste. It seems like music has been very important to you over the years, and you mentioned a variety of different types of music that go on during the Mark-a-Thon, possibly, given other people’s tastes. What about yours?
Mark Curdo: It may sound cliché to say, but I’m across the board like a lot of people. I think as you come along in life, you get open to music, and you have people that bring music into your life and you get used to and grow into and life plays along with the soundtrack. For me, when I was young in my earlier years, I was exposed to such a variety of music at a very young age, that I think for me, that kept my mind open and kept an appreciation for music that I’ll always maintain. I had big band swing music with my grandparents when I was younger, so Glenn Miller and Count Basie and a lot of the singers, too. Mel Torme and Tony Bennett and Sinatra. My mom loved a lot of 50s, early rock and roll, so Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison. She liked a lot of the singers, too, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and stuff. I listened to a lot of that when I was younger.
My dad always loved a lot of bands with horns, because he was kind of a drum and bugle guy, so Earth Wind & Fire, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Chicago, all that stuff, Wings, too, and just big bands with great songs a lot when I was younger. One of my cousins was into new wave and disco and post punk stuff, so the Knack, Blondie, Devo, all this stuff. I had another cousin who was into classic rock or the corporate rock then, Journey, Cheap Trick, Boston, Styx, all that stuff. I heard a lot of big rock when I was younger. Pretty wide range by the time you’re seven years old.
Then as you get older and you get into school and you’re in a more social setting with other friends, my friends they’re into heavy metal and my friends that I started to breakdance with in 1983-84. The one thing I’m proud of is I never, even at a younger age, I never worried about my musical interests. If I liked something, I liked it. I didn’t make any excuses for it. I think a lot of people when they’re younger, they’re embarrassed to say they like something. I never felt that way.
I encourage people to try to live that way. Even as they get older they might feel embarrassed that they’re listening to something cheesy. I think you embrace it. If you love music, shout about it. Talk about it. Don’t hold back the things that you like, and you got to roll the window up and sing along to this Sheena Easton song, or Laura Branigan song. Let it out. I think that’s part of the enjoyment of music, is you’re singing along. You’re letting something out. You’re showing that emotion, that spirit. Don’t bottle it up. Chance are the other person might like that stuff, too, and they’re not saying anything about it. We’ve always kind of, I think people maybe held their cheesy music close to them and not shared it with people. I think you got to share it.
Everything, I collect music, so I’m all over the place…. Except, once again, maybe I’m not the only one in this, but new country. That’s it. That’s it. For almost every genre of music, to just have one, I think that’s not bad. New country, I just can’t, I can’t do it. I see the success of it. I’m blown away. It’s unbelievable. There’s amazing musicians in it. Pretty much everybody in country music looks good. Everything, the guys are handsome, the girls are beautiful. They put on great shows. They’re stealing the rock show from the rest of the world. They’re putting on fireworks, and they get the big stages. You go up to Darling’s Waterfront up there and they’re doing, all the sellouts are usually country shows. I just, I can’t. I can’t do it. There’s just something missing in the music for me. I don’t feel it’s…. There’s something soulful. There’s an honesty. There’s something real that I think is lacking for me in new country. Old country, classic country, of course. I love Merle Haggard, George Jones, obviously Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, all that stuff.
That’s it. Other than that, jazz, metal, reggae, soul, Motown, I love. I love oldies, 80s, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: It seems that it used to be that music divided people generationally because of, maybe, because of the technology, I guess. I know that what I remember of my parents liking Simon & Garfunkel, and I guess the Beatles, and I think of listening to “Hey Jude” on the turntable, but now it’s as if, when I talk to my own children, they will like things and I’ll be like, “Oh, I like that too. That’s so interesting.” I will bring up the name of someone and I’ll say, “Have you heard of this person?” They’re like, “Of course.” The person is 30 years old, which I love, because it also, it’s an interesting new way to connect with people. The generational divide isn’t as stark, I think, as it once was.
Mark Curdo: Sure, sure. I like to hope that it’s a lot for younger people going back and being adventurous and looking for that older stuff. As you get older, when you hear something about it or you hear somebody mention about it, or you hear a clip, you start to go back and you research and you find those artists. I like to think it’s that. I think that a lot of people, a lot of music is, I want to say revived, but I think you have current artists that may, their sound maybe hearkens back to people that they were influenced by, and it brings it forward in a new way. If you’re listening to, pull up something, you’re listening to Jeff Buckley in recent years, and he has elements of 60s and folk and Led Zeppelin and Nick Drake and maybe Simon & Garfunkel and all those things. You kind of take that trip back where you investigate their influences and what’s made them become what they are. I think that’s something that happens.
Also, I think that there’s a nostalgia thing, and there’s a throwback love that we have these days that it’s kind of cool to go back to look to things that instantly younger people might think is silly and hokey, but then when they uncover it they go, “Whoa, this is actually pretty freaking cool. This stuff sounds great.”
I think that’s a good thing, because I am seeing myself as we go forward with technology and devices and gadgets. I have the stuff, I have players and pods and pads and phones, whatever. I play along with a lot of the current wave of stuff, but I find myself trying to constantly hold on to things too that connects me to what was before and what was maybe a little bit more real. I think you see more record shops opening up, places that sell old video games and old comic books and things like that. I think those things are going to grow as we go forward. I think that people still like to somehow have their hand on the opportunity to still, say live in the past, but still enjoy those things that we enjoyed before.
I think a lot of this technology comes with this swipe-and-erase mentality of what’s next. No, that’s done and away with. No, you can’t have that anymore. No way. I can live with having a million songs on my phone for convenience, but if I’m sitting at home or if I’m with some friends, I want to put on that record that’s going to sound better.
Lisa Belisle: I’m really intrigued to hear what you’re going to talk about at Maine Live, which is coming up very soon. For people who are interested, we will make available links to the Center for Grieving Children and the Mark-a-Thon information. Of course that’ll be next summer, but we’re all going to be waiting with bated breath to see what happens on the tenth anniversary. I really appreciate this conversation, the time you’ve taken to come in, the time you’ve taken to do Maine Live with us, because it’s a very important and I think there’s something about just the story that people put so much effort into. Anyone who’s listening who wants to hear more about you, Mark Curdo, can come to Maine Live. I’ve been speaking with Mark Curdo who’s been hosting the Mark-a-Thon, his annual week long radio show fundraiser for the Center for Grieving Children since 2008. Thanks a lot.
Mark Curdo: Yeah, thank you.
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Lisa Belisle: Today is my great pleasure to have with me David Thete who was born in the Congo and graduated from Cheverus High School. He has taken classes at the University of Southern Maine and is the founder of Kesho Wazo, a youth art collective in Portland. Kesho Wazo means “tomorrow’s ideas” in Swahili. With David, I have Isiah Taylor, who is a Portland-based musician. Thanks so much for coming in.
David Thete: Thank you for having us.
Isaiah Taylor: Thanks.
Lisa Belisle: You’re doing good things here in Portland, both of you.
David Thete: Yeah, you could say that.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah?
David Thete: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: You come highly recommended from Adam Burke and other members of the community. Obviously the work you’re doing with Kesho Wazo… am I pronouncing that correctly?
David Thete: Yeah, you’re pronouncing it correctly. Adam is, he’s a good mentor of mine. He works with teen TED Talks. Actually, he reached out to me after the visual we had and he took me, we had coffee, and we talked about just my life and my high school and how I started Kesho Wazo, and he’s really surrounded me with the right people. Like this, he really, he connected me with Paul, and it’s given me a lot of opportunities, so yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Why is art so important? Why do something like what you’ve done with Kesho Wazo?
David Thete: Art wasn’t always important to me. It wasn’t always my first priority. In high school I was mainly focused on basketball, and I didn’t really see myself in the arts, but although arts was in my family. My mom is a fashion designer. Her dad was a painter, and art is in my family, but I saw myself doing other things, and because basketball wasn’t really the path I wanted to go down, and just seeing that I liked fashion, I like clothes, and I wanted to bring something that kids can come and be creative, not just with art but with themselves. Art was something that I found I could express myself with so I was like, “All right, I want to do this. I want to make this platform for everybody to come do everything that they want to do.”
I feel like art, here especially, we have a culture. We have the right culture to do it. We have a diverse culture. There’s a lot of kids that are multi-talented and stuff like that, and so why not the arts?
Isaiah Taylor: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Isaiah, is that how you know David?
Isaiah Taylor: I actually knew him through basketball.
David Thete: Yeah.
Isaiah Taylor: After three or four years, once I saw him start getting involved, it was just kind of natural. He just did, he was doing everything by himself and….
David Thete: There’s actually a funny story behind that. He’s not going to tell it, but we grew up, when I was growing up in high school, he was a senior when I was a freshman. I used to hang out with him and his friends. I was the youngest one. I was the youngest one, and they all used to pick on me, but he was kind of like my big brother. He would mentor me. He’d be like, do this, do that. After he graduated we didn’t really lose contact but we stopped seeing each other. He was in New York and stuff like that, but after the visual we had in July, this summer I had a visual and there was a, the paper came out, Portland Press Herald, and I was on the cover. The first person to call me in the morning was Isaiah. He was like, “Oh.” He called me. He’s like, “Yo.” I missed his call. I didn’t pick up his call and he called me. He’s like, “Oh, so you’re answering now? You think you Hollywood now or something?” I was like, “No, I just, I couldn’t answer.”
After that we met up and he’s just like, “I see what you’re doing and I want to help you. I want to mentor you.” I feel like that’s the story behind it.
Isaiah Taylor: Yeah, better told by him.
David Thete: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: From what I understand from David, you are a superstar.
David Thete: Yeah.
Isaiah Taylor: I’m trying to get there. Working my way there.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about your music.
Isaiah Taylor: I’ve been rapping for probably five, six years. Started in high school. It’s always been natural. I’ve been just surrounded by music my whole life. My mom was a singer. Yeah, I was kind of, when I was in high school I was kind of the only one doing my own music, independently recording myself, singing, rapping, whatever it was, making beats or whatever. It’s kind of my position within this whole thing with Kesho Wazo. Even though I’m not, I try to stay away from decision-making, I try to let him make most of the decisions, but when it comes to music I have, I just add a certain touch because I’ve been traveling for a little while in Boston and New York, or in Florida and things like that doing shows. I have other experiences that I feel like I can bring back to Portland and show and then educate the youth about, and about how… because music is art at the end of the day. It’s all about perception, and we have different perceptions on art and music, even though they are kind of similar and the same type of thing.
David Thete: When I think of music in Portland, I think of, my first person that comes to mind is him because in high school I remember all my friends being like, “Oh, did you hear Isaiah’s new song,” blah blah blah. I’m like, “Yo, I heard it 30 days before you. I already heard it before you.” Just in terms of Kesho Wazo, Kesho Wazo is, it’s everything in the sense that it’s everything that’s influential. Music right now is probably the most influential thing for young people. We want to change how music is viewed, particularly how black men are viewed through music. We have a different story to tell, and we want to tell that story about Portland through our music. It’s really hard. I feel like we’re isolated in a way, because people look at Maine like oh, there’s not really many artists from Maine. There’s not many really people that do rhythm and poetry from Maine, like rap in Maine. They’re out-casted. Even locally people will be like, “Well….” They wouldn’t particularly listen to a local artist.
That’s where his mentorship is helping me express…. He’s helping me grow with my music, but also helping the other people understand that we’re not just local artists. We’re not just local musicians. We have a story to tell. We want to tell the story about men.
Lisa Belisle: What is your story?
David Thete: That’s crazy. That’s a deep question. It depends on where you want to start. Where do you want to start with that? What is my story?
Lisa Belisle: You can take it however you want to.
David Thete: My story is, I immigrated to this country when I was two years old with my mother and my two sisters, and growing up I never really had a father figure in my life. I was that outcast, weird kid who was always doing what he wasn’t supposed to do. Kids were playing basketball and I was doing taekwondo. Kids were playing soccer and I was skateboarding with my white friends. I was always a misfit, kind of. I feel like that, it developed my mind to like, I really feel like I’m an individual. I think for myself. Peer pressure is not something that I had to deal with. I feel like people were mostly peer pressured into doing things that I wanted to do. My friends were always trying to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t really understand that up until high school, understand that hey, you can be influential in a way that’s positive. I don’t want to be popular for picking on people. I don’t want to be popular for that.
I want to be, I want to use what I have to tell the story, and my story right now is developing in a way that I can help other people’s story be told through Kesho Wazo. Growing up was really hard for me without having that outlet of a male figure, but my mom really was strong and she, like without her I wouldn’t where I am right now. I went off topic with that question, so that’s good. I’m going to stop right there, but yeah. I guess my story is just I’m a young indigo trying to, I’m searching for energy, to give energy and just spread peaceful vibes, I guess.
Lisa Belisle: What do you think is the view of young black men in music? You referenced that.
David Thete: Yeah, because he’s a artist I want…. I’m an artist, too, but I want to hear what you have to say and then I’m going to second that, because….
Isaiah Taylor: The views of young, black men?
Lisa Belisle: Just, I think what David was saying is that there is a perception.
Isaiah Taylor: Perception.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. What is the perception that you’re working with?
Isaiah Taylor: For me, what I noticed is black or white. Not color, but it’s kind of you’re either here or here. It’s like you’re representing negative, I don’t know, negative actions and things that we’re trying to get away from, or you have to be completely all the way conscious and all the way, maybe even pop-type music, things that everybody’s trying to forget about this stuff, so you have to make music that’s completely opposite of that. You either have to be talking about it and bringing attention to it, or just dismissing it altogether.
Besides that, it’s just, in our community as well, it’s not only in the outside community. In our own community is just like, we have these certain expectations that it has to be, you have to fit in to one type of box. That’s why me and him coming together is better because I’m more on an artist side, or a musician side, and he’s more on a creative, fashion type of thing, but that is not really, not accepted, but it’s not really normal in this side of music. That’s why it’s even just me and him collaborating and connecting and sharing our ideas and talking through conversation and energy or whatever, we’re making each other better.
Me as an artist, I’m being able to lean more in the middle now. I’m actually getting pieces from this side, pieces from this side. I understand how these people live. I understand how these people live, and why they think these people live wrong. I’m trying to bridge the gap myself and he’s helping me do that. I don’t know. We’re just trying to break down the barriers.
David Thete: I see that. To me, I feel like as a young, black, we said rapper, right? As a rapper they want, not they want you, but it’s not…. For me, I haven’t released any of my music. He hasn’t not, he hasn’t let me, but it’s not the right time for me to release music right now because it’s too much for people. People will be like, “Well, why you trying to do everything?” They wouldn’t understand what I’m saying, not even what I’m saying, but it would just be too much. It’d be like, “Oh, he’s trying to rap now, too.” I’m doing fashion, all this stuff. People are going to be like, “Well, he’s trying to be like, he’s trying to be Kanye West.”
They’re not going to understand. They’re not going to listen to the words that I’m saying, especially because I’m not swearing. I’m not using. I’m not your typical…. I’m not talking about stuff that I don’t do. I’m saying real life stuff. I’m saying stuff that I truly believe is real, and if you’re not playing to people’s ears sometimes, you’re going to be out-casted. My voice is not going to be held to that standard. They’re going to be like, “Well, he’s not playing the role that we expected him to, so we’re not going to, it’s not the time for him to release music.”
That’s something that I really want to change, because I feel like it has nothing to do with the people who…. It has everything to do with the people before me. I respect all the artists that came before me, but they made it hard for me to do what I have to do. They made it hard for me to bring up that platform of my music. It’s even hard around my friends bringing up that I make music, because they’re like, “Man, again? Something new?” It’s like, no, music has always been a part of me.
I remember from kindergarten on up I’ve always played the drums and how I got into music, I always liked freestyling. I was always the one when the beat would come on, I’d freestyle blah blah blah, and then it’s crazy when the first time he picked me up after the visual, I was really, really excited to show him that I can sing, I can make music. I was like, “Listen.” I played a beat for him and I remember I sang the whole thing. I rapped it for him. He’s like, “Wow. You have a lot of potential,” blah blah blah. That’s not something you hear off the rip from people. People will be like, “Well …” It’s mostly negative first. It was just positive, and I feel like it has to be like that. It has to be positive feedback first.
Isaiah Taylor: Yeah, I remember.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about Kesho Wazo. It means tomorrow’s ideas in Swahili, right?
David Thete: Yes.
Lisa Belisle: What are you thinking, what are tomorrow’s ideas, and are they things that you have yourself, or they have things that you’re gathering for people who are involved?
David Thete: Kesho Wazo developed around this time last year when I was a senior in high school. Like I said, basketball I thought would be my passion. I thought it’d be the area that I’d pursue. That didn’t really work out because playing time and certain situations that just didn’t fall my way. I was going through a rough time just figuring out what can I do with my life. I literally thought I was going to the NBA and that reality, that hit me. I could literally end up on the news, be another stat. How can I make my life positive? I developed in my mind what I like. I like being with my friends, I like being with a collective group of people, but how can I create a platform for kids to do positive things? I asked my mom how to say tomorrow’s ideas in Swahili and she was just like, “Kesho Wazo.” I was like wow, I can run with that. I really, I can go with that.
Kesho Wazo, it first developed as a high school thing. I asked a couple kids in my school who I kind of felt like were outcasts, too, or misfits, like not a lot of people understand them, and we made a poster symbolizing black history month. It was, I wanted the poster to be black to symbolize black history month, but I wanted to put different facts about the whole world on it, like it’s a month to just educate yourself, not just about certain particular race. You should educate yourself on everything, all the stuff that’s happening. That’s the first project we worked on.
Kesho Wazo, it’s a group of 25 kids that, it’s an art collective… I call it a group of super heroes, because we are tomorrow’s generation, and we have ideas to offer to the world to grow and just to make this world a better place. There’s a lot of band things going on and kids don’t really have a good platform to express themselves and say, “No, these are the things that I want to change.” Usually it’s adults who are in charge of these groups who are giving the rules, “Okay, we’re doing this today,” and Kesho Wazo is a place where kids can just be like, “Okay, I have this idea. How can we make it come to reality?” Kesho Wazo is the youth’s imagination meeting reality. That’s how I would describe it.
Lisa Belisle: What do you think, Isaiah? What do you think about all of this? Does it seem like there’s a lot of energy and a lot of creativity going into something that’s still in its early stages of being formed?
Isaiah Taylor: Yeah, definitely. One of the main focuses were just trying to find ways to stay busy in Portland. He’s been doing way more art walks that he’ll give himself credit for and fashion shows and releasing different, like making his clothes and then releasing them with his logo on them or from scratch with his mom’s help. Those things are getting people interested and getting the community to start being involved. He’s starting to have real influence in the community, and whenever he, like he threw a party New Year’s.
David Thete: Yeah, that was crazy.
Isaiah Taylor: It was a New Year’s party and it was over 600 people. 200 people lined up outside. It was just like…. But they all came for Kesho Wazo, to come to the Kesho Wazo event. People know what Kesho Wazo stands for. They know it means tomorrow’s ideas, and they know the history of it and they know the background. Like all right, our peers, they know what it’s really about. It’s just getting them to stand on the front lines.
David Thete: Engaged, yeah.
Isaiah Taylor: Engaged, yeah.
David Thete: It’s hard because it’s a mindset. It changes everyday. It develops everyday. I didn’t understand what type of influence I had up until that party. I remember, we were driving up to the party. The party started at 10:00, and I get there at 9:30 something and there’s a line going around the corner. I look at him and I’m like- I was just like, “What is going on?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t think that many people would come. That made me realize there’s a need for this in this city. This city in particular, not anywhere else. This city is so diverse and has so much culture to it, and this mindset, Kesho Wazo, is needed for kids to understand that. Even if you’re not in Kesho Wazo, you still are tomorrow’s idea, because you are young and you have ideas. You can do anything you want.
That’s what I want kids to understand, is even if you’re not affiliated with us, you’re not with us, that just because you don’t have a platform, you can create your own. In the mission statement it says, if you don’t like the books, the clothes, and the sports you have, create your own. You can do anything you want. That’s not what they’re telling us at school. There’s not many teachers that told me my potential.
The article that came out in the Portland Press Herald, I failed four classes my first year at Cheverus. Four classes. I couldn’t play basketball anymore. I failed many more after that, too, but by the grace of God I’m here having this interview talking about something that…. This is my dreams, my dreams are coming true right now. This is that…. I’m enjoying life right now. I want every kid to feel this. I want every kid to feel like they’re not isolated, they’re not in that box. That’s Kesho Wazo. It’s really, it’s hard for me at time because I don’t realize what I have, what resources I have.
That’s where this relationship helps me so much, because he’ll be like, “No,” because he’s older and he’s lived longer than me and he’s an artist in himself so he knows how to deal with certain situations. It’s like, “You can’t go to this party and hang out with your friends on a Friday night because you have to work on this event coming up.” That’s things that I wasn’t used to. Now it’s like, okay, like I said, I have a calendar. I have a schedule. I have to do certain things to get to where I want to be because I feel like we haven’t, we’re just getting started.
Isaiah Taylor: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Is it interesting to try to figure out your own life versus being at Cheverus, or really any school where somebody says, “You do this, and then you do this, and then you do this.”” Now you’re in a situation, like Isaiah, you’ve been in the past four years, where if you’re an artist, you have to be self-motivated to create and to promote and to organize. What is that transition like? I guess either one of you can answer that question relatively.
Isaiah Taylor: You want to start?
David Thete: Yeah, I guess I’ll start. Honestly, that’s something that that was the biggest change, having so much control on my day-to-day life and the people I surround myself with and organizing and promoting. That is, it’s a lot of power that you have inside and you just have to find it, like you said, the self-motivation part. That’s really hard to be self-motivated, and the thing that keeps me grounded is, just remember the vision, remember that. Sometimes I’ll get really depressed. I’ll be like, “Wow, these kids aren’t seeing what I’m trying to do. The group is not listening,” blah blah blah, but it’s like, it’s going to take time, and the vision, not everyone understands the vision when it’s right there in their face. Maybe it’s going to take me to go away, you know what I mean?
It’s going to take time for people to understand and just managing myself at…. I was 17 when all of this started. I had no idea how to answer emails and PR team and Tweet and all that stuff. It’s all stuff that I had to learn and I feel like that’s, it was awesome. I went to USM for the first semester and I feel like I’m getting, in just these past six months, I’ve gotten so much experience that’s going to help me down the line forever.
One of my favorite things that I’ve ever worked on was I got to collab with this artist from Detroit, who, he goes by the name of Yourself and we worked on a project on gentrification in Portland, because there’s a huge housing gentrification crisis and I live on Munjoy Hill, and so we collabed. I took some photos of areas that are being gentrified and we made a visual installation at space gallery. That to me is when I saw, I was like wow, I’m not even in art school. I’m not even…. there’s kids right across the street at MECA who would go their whole lives for this and I have this opportunity to do this. That’s when I realized I got to stop playing around. We got to go harder from here. I have to be on top of emails. I have to be on top of every message and just learning that, it’s really hard, but I’m lucky I have the right people around me to help me and keep me motivated. Yeah, I guess that’s it.
Isaiah Taylor: I just think I was always a believer that education never stopped once you leave the classroom. It’s like, I made a conscious decision to not go to college when I graduated, because I knew I had been studying music and pursuing music for two years before that. My mom eventually understood that I could really just, if I’m in this field of music, rapping, engineering music, producing music, and things like that, it’s experience. It’s not going and sitting down and having somebody even in a classroom with a professor that studies music, because I’ve been in certain studios and certain places where people will sit me down and be like, “Yeah, I understand what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think you should go to school for that.”
People literally me. I went to American, I think it’s AI, I forget what’s the actual name of it, but it’s a college for music. I went to visit there and was thinking about a scholarship and things like that, but I just realize, I’m never really going to make progress until I learn how to do it on my own. School will help you how to test your own limits and teach you what you yourself can handle. After school is just, you already know these things. You already know yourself. You’re already comfortable in your own skin, or whatever it is. It just takes time to develop an actual schedule, an actual workload that you’re going to attack at a certain time and things like that. You have to stay on schedule, stay, make sure if you’re… If you’re not, if you don’t have a system behind you and making sure you do these things, make sure you have monthly goals, six month goals, three month goals, daily goals, things like that. Things like that helped me to just stay busy and to just stay productive.
David Thete: I think and one of the biggest things that I feel like has helped me is networking, just really putting yourself out there. A lot of people are like, when they’re in opportunities, say they’re at an art event or something, they’ll just sit and look at art. If I don’t meet at least 10 people or get at least some business cards or something or tell people, “Hey listen, this is Kesho Wazo, this is what I’m doing,” then I feel like there’s no point going to the event if you’re not sharing what you are. That’s how most opportunities come.
That’s how I met Erin. She came to an event that we had and was like, “Hey, I want to work on a project on gentrification in Portland. This is what I’m doing. Can we do that?” Then it developed into a documentary that she’s filming of Kesho Wazo for one year. That would have never happened if I was sheltered like, ah Kesho Wazo. No. I try to really articulate and talk to people as much as I can, even if it’s uncomfortable for me. I feel like that’s the only way I can grow. It’s really hard sometimes because nowadays… I used to be able to go and skate down Congress Street and just no one knows me. I’m not saying I’m a celebrity or anything, but it’s hard to go places now and have to talk to everybody when I’m trying to, say I’m just trying to be with my friends and eat something, people will try to talk and do whatnot. It’s like man, I was not used to that. That’s the hardest thing to get used to, just always being ready and respectful to people, but I enjoy it.
Lisa Belisle: You’re talking about Erin. Erin’s been in the studio listening. She’s been filming.
David Thete: Yeah, Erin’s in the studio, yeah. She’s a professor at Colby College and she’s done lots of filming herself and I think through this film I’ve grown to just seeing how the people… just how we got to the point where someone is documenting this, because I always, like, the future’s going to be televised. The future’s going to be televised, but now it’s, this is literally, it’s being televised. I know we’re on the right track if, once Erin came along, I’m like, “All right, we’re good. We got this.”
Lisa Belisle: If people who are interested in watching this documentary someday, Erin’s last name is?
David Thete: Erin Murphy. Erin Murphy. I think we’re going to, we work closely with SPACE Gallery, so the film will probably be shown there, or whatever Erin wants to do. It’s up to Erin. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: I appreciate the time that I’ve had to spend with both of you. I’ve been speaking with David Thete, who is the founder of Kesho Wazo, and also with Isaiah Taylor who is a Portland-based musician. Although, I’m kind of thinking you’re probably going to go beyond the Portland base, someday bigger.
David Thete: Yeah, yeah.
Isaiah Taylor: Yeah, hopefully.
Lisa Belisle: I think bigger things are in store for both of you. I really appreciate you’re taking the time to come in.
David Thete: Thank you.
Isaiah Taylor: We appreciate it.
David Thete: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity. Thank you for Maine Magazine and thank you for this opportunity. I’m really thankful for it.
Isaiah Taylor: Appreciate it, definitely.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 288, Community Connectors. Our guests have included Mark Curdo, Isaiah Taylor, and David Thete. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit LoveMaineRadio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloaded for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. We’d love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week.
This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope that you have enjoyed our Community Connectors show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, The Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Paul Koenig. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Lisa Belisle. For more information on our host production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at LoveMaineRadio.com.
Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at LoveMaineRadio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.