Watching the “Superhero” music video by local band Kore Ionz is a test of a one’s emotional mettle.
The pop feel, reggae beat and hopeful lyrics float in sweet contrast to the scenes playing out in front of the viewer: a police officer preparing to fire on a young person of color, rape and domestic violence.
“I will be your superhero / Fight the villains and save the whole world / Fly across oceans for you / I will rescue you,” sings Daniel Pak as each terrifying situation reaches its ultimate conclusion. Children dressed wearing capes and masks intervene in each situation.
Pak is the singer-songwriter in Kore Ionz and cofounder of a music studio for youth called Totem Star. He played the video at the “Using Arts as a Catalyst for Social Change” conference at Orca K-8 School the first weekend in April, following a performance from a trio of artists from Youth Speaks who also act in “Superhero.”
It’s the kind of video that demands conversation, that unapologetically requires people to keep engaging with the material that it presents. It’s the kind of video that leaves a person depressed and at the same time hopeful, raw but still open.
“Pak is the truth,” said Donte Felder, head teacher at Orca K-8.
Felder’s wife, Tanisha Brandon-Felder, put together the conference, and their daughter Bayje plays a role in the music video. Bayje is 9 years old, and the subject matter of her scene — a White police officer preparing to fire on three Black adolescents — is gripping.
But these are topics that families must address, even at that early age, and it’s not something from which Pak will shy away.
“We talk about this at home all the time,” Pak said.
Sitting with Pak at The Station coffee house on Beacon Hill feels like being in the presence of celebrity. The owners of the establishment (community figures in their own right) and patrons greeted him with smiles and hugs. Despite his thin frame, Pak still manages to envelop people in a warm embrace.
It’s what Felder remembers from the first time they met.
“When I first met him, he greeted me with this big, giant bear hug,” Felder said. “I didn’t know him. From that moment, I had nothing but admiration and respect for him.”
It’s part of Pak’s ethos. The 37-year-old musician plays ukulele, guitar, bass, piano, drums and saxophone. He mixes, records and teaches. Almost 1,000 youth have participated in Totem Star, a recording studio for youth, since he and partner Thaddeus Turner began seven years ago.
Totem Star is more than a recording studio. It’s a safe space, an escape where kids who might normally find themselves in conflict because of the neighborhood in which they grew up or their social circles can sit together, learn and grow.
“We care. We really care,” Pak said.
Totem Star’s flagship class kicked off in the summer of 2010.
“We started and ended with 10 young people,” Pak said, noting that to hold onto all 10 through the entirety of a Seattle summer was an accomplishment. Pak and Turner continued the program, not entirely realizing the project upon which they’d embarked.
A few years in, they qualified for a grant through the city open only to organizations that can demonstrate three years of consistent programming.
“Did we do this for three years?” Pak joked.
Totem Star continues to grow and evolve. It provides recording space as well as a live performance where the kids can perform their art in an onstage showcase. The team secured its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, or as Pak describes it “play the nonprofit game,” in time for GiveBIG and a fundraiser this fall.
The young people who participate provide their own genius, while the Totem Star team gives them the space to explore it.
“We’re just planting seeds,” Pak said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Read the full May 17 issue.
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