The Theme Was Rise, So We Did
Written by Mirabai Jyothi Kukathas
Arts Corps is pretty freaking’ cool, amiright? I mean, the organization reaches over 2500 K-12 students across Seattle, providing resources for FREE arts education to youth who probably wouldn’t get it otherwise. They support organizations like Youth Speaks Seattle (congratulations to everyone who performed their earth-shaking poetry at the Grand Slam last Friday), the Residency, and Totem Star, just to name a(n illustrious) few. The programs that Arts Corps run are really meaningful. (I say that as a bona-fide youth and participant of multiple Arts Corps programs, not as someone who receives a monthly stipend from the organization. Although I am very grateful for that too.) Personally, without Totem Star and Youth Speaks, I wouldn't have opportunities to share and grow my art, and I wouldn’t have this amazing community of friends and role-models.
There’s only one problem with Arts Corps: until we learn to run all our programs on love, art, and good vibes alone, we’re awfully dependent on this pesky little thing called money. We try to combat this issue through fundraising, applying for grants, and the thanks to the donations of wonderfully kind individuals and organizations. (If you maybe wanted to be one of those super-nice-people… Well, I’m just going to leave this link here. Wink wink, nudge, nudge.) The biggest annual fundraiser Arts Corps puts on is called La Festa de la Arte. It’s a celebration of artists and artistry, a showcase of our seismic talent, and really fun time. The theme for Festa 2018 was Rise, and we sure as hell did.
A couple months ago, Pak told me and the other Totem Star interns our role for Festa: writing and performing an original song for the showcase finale. Usually I’d find that a daunting task, but the other interns here at Totem Star are no other than Lashaunycee freaking O’Cain (better known as kidLIO) and Jah “Jawzilla” Kirby. With a lineup like that, it would probably be harder to write a bad song than a good one.
Writing the song was a really great process. Pak tried out a few different chord progressions and asked us to pick our favorite. While we were discussing, Jah casually picked up a guitar and started playing this hypnotic riff, effectively shutting the rest of us up.
Over the next month or so we would spend every Tuesday afternoon working on the song. We knew we wanted the lyrics to tie in to Festa’s theme: rising. We were discussing what the word rise made us think of, when I started prattling on about phoenixes. They’re mythical birds that, at the end of their lives, die by bursting into flames, only to be reborn from the ashes. No matter how (or how many times) they die, they rise back up from the ashes of their destruction and continue living. I thought we could include some phoenix-related-metaphors in the song. Something about rising from the ashes of failure, hurt, and oppression by bursting into fiery power. I even proposed we name the song “Big F***ing Fire Bird”, an idea Pak ultimately vetoed.
LIO was the one to turn my incoherent rambling (as well as her own genius) into actual lyrics. It seemed like every Tuesday she showed up with another verse of beautifully crafted poetry. Speaking of LIO and poetry, our girl placed in the 2018 Grand Slam and is headed to compete in Houston this summer.
We got keyboardist Michael Grant to come in during the final stages of songwriting. In addition to supplying good energy to the group, he helped finalize the arrangement and add a much-needed dimension to the song. We started meeting more regularly to workshop and rehearse. At this point we were blessed with the additions of drummer Aaron Walker-Loud and rapper Carlos Nieto. There were two official Festa rehearsals, both very long and tiring, but ultimately productive. It was really lovely to see so much talent and passion come together to create this event.
Eventually the day came. LIO and I missed our last class of the day (we got permission first, but I still feel guilty) so we could get to Fremont in time for rehearsals. When I stepped into the venue… well, I gasped. It was so freakin fancy! So big and official-seeming. I almost turned right back around and left, like not today. Instead, we got all situated in the greenroom, ran through through the show, practiced our harmonies a few (billion) times, and tried to calm our nerves. We also took a bunch of photos in the photobooth, played in the high-back swivel chairs (‘cause we’re mature like that) and had some fun soaking in the ambiance of our big, official-seeming surroundings.
The performance itself was amazing. The kids from LIHI Meadowbrook and Hazel Valley Elementary School were so talented and adorable, Massive Break Challenge killed it (I was torn between being hella impressed and hella worried, all those flips and spins and whatnot), the Residency had me shook to the core (voices that beautiful should come with a warning label), Youth Speaks left no dry eye in the house, and as for us here at Totem Star… Well, we did pretty damn good if I do say so myself.
Over the course of the night we raised over $326,000 for Arts Corps. That money will go towards supporting existing programs and creating new ones, still at no cost to the youth. I’m really proud of the song we wrote and of the work we did. I’m really proud of Totem Star and Arts Corps in general and I’m really glad our fundraising efforts were successful. I’m super pumped for Festa 2019 (presuming of course the world survives until then) and for everything we’ll do between now and then.
Much love everyone!
The live recording of Rise at Festa 2018.
You can watch the rest of the Festa videos here.
A special thanks to Amy Piñon for sending, taking, editing, and producing the photos and videos.