Moving with purpose: King Kayak is living his dream

29.03.2021, Allgemein
29

It is late night in Manhattan when my Facetime call from Los Angeles reaches dancer, musician and choreographer Wendell Bullen, better known as King Kayak. With his hood pulled over his cap, he answers the call. Behind him, the vibrant lights of the city’s skyscrapers. It is quite noisy but such is the case in New York. I enjoy it – this unique energy, I can almost sense it through the phone. Wendell looks a bit tired, his week has been tough and busy. Before he returns back home, which since last summer has been Los Angeles, he will teach another pop up class in New York.

Then suddenly, his tiredness seems to disappear. It’s when he starts speaking about his island, his dancing and his journey, all of the heaviness on his chest is suddenly gone and the sparkle comes back to his eyes. This is how you would usually always see him: Sparkling, not only through his art, but also through his warm, modest, and polite character. His former dancer nickname used to be „Bling“, a pretty accurate artist name that – maybe – not only reflected his former liking of jewelry. Only recently, King Kayak launched – in collaboration with Danca Mafia and Hitmakerchinx – his new single “We Good”, but also his first Kayak’s Finest clothing pieces, and there is even more soon to come. Here, a conversation about seeking purpose, life lessons, whiskey on ice, and the spice of Foot Pon Shoulder.

Sina Braetz: Can you describe the taste of Carriacou, your home island, for me?

King Kayak: Sweet. Sweet is number one. And flavorful, with a little kick, a little spice (laughs).

Mmmmh (laughs). What do you miss most about your island?

I miss the people. No matter where you go, they are friendly and respectable. And the energy, nothing is that fast paced, it is very chill. I miss the simplicity of things, being in full nature (takes a long breath). If you walk around, you can discover so many beautiful things, like huge grass fields. We don’t have any forests, it’s just air… so amazing. There is this one area where one of my family members lives: there, you can just walk into the open sea. It is beautiful. And then, of course, I miss my dad, my family, my friends, the people I grew up with (takes another long breath). I don’t know. All of my friends were just cool, we had a great time.

Are you still in contact?

Yes, but it is very different. I am on the go all the time and kind of lost contact but I am getting it back.

Your real name Wendell is of Old German origin and means the wanderer. What does that word trigger within you? Would you consider yourself a wanderer?

Yes, a little bit. Coming from a small place, I’ve seen the same things for so many years until I moved to New York. Just being here is like another way of life. So many new things, new people, just everything was a new experience for me. I’ve always been the person that wanted to explore. So this definitely saved me. I don’t wander too much. Just enough.

In Carriacou, you joined some talent shows and dance competitions. Were these the first on-stage dance performances you experienced?

Well, those were really more like talent shows which started in elementary school. I just wanted to be a part of it because growing up, dancing was all I did. When I heard music, you would see me whining up the place (laughs). Whining for sure was my first dance. I was usually always out with my sister. I have a vague memory but I also did a little bit of Quadrille dancing and singing. The two, dancing and singing, kind of go hand in hand, you know.

True. What do you think is the greatest power of dance?

The greatest power of dance is the way it connects you to anyone, anywhere. Even if it is just a regular gathering or a party, it will always connect because it is one language. Dancing makes us all so happy. Even when having a bad day, it will make you feel better. Because it is going to take the attention away from whatever it is that you’re thinking about, as long as it is presented right.

What about the greatest power of music?

I think music makes everybody feel. It connects you by feeling. Everybody feels the same thing at the same time.

Your father used to have his own business on your island. Did that influence and motivate you to start your own business and brand too?

Definitely. He still has the businesses – a bakery and a small restaurant. I used to help him a lot with that. We would be peeling a whole big sack of potatoes for example – there was a lot of manual labor (laughs). I was technically working for him at such a young age, like six years. Also, he did his own alcohol, his own wine. My dad was a full on business man. He had shelves of books, so many. Just being around him influenced me a lot.

Do you talk to him about your own business sometimes?

Yes, we do talk, he definitely supports it. He is also a little bit into dancing and music so if he can, he gives me advice.

Apart from your dad: who else influenced and shaped you a lot? Did you have an idol growing up, someone you really looked up to?

I think that would be my mom. She was always such a hard-working person but always nice and polite. I watched her overcome a lot, coming from Carriacou to the States, making a new life for herself and taking care of the children. That was really inspiring.

Was she the one to convince you to move to the United States?

No, actually not (laughs). I used to travel back and forth during the summers whenever I got the chance to visit my mom. One year, I came again for the summer. Before going back, there must have been some issues with the place I was staying at in Grenada. I went to an all-boys high school. My dad went to it as well. Grendada and Carriacou are a couple of hours apart by boat, so to go back and forth would have been way too expensive and complicated so I stayed with my aunt. Then I don’t know what happened, but I got kicked out, so I stayed in New York. But I felt like my mom was trying to keep me inside for too long. I was so used to being outdoors on the island, being at the beach, doing what I wanted… even in the evenings. I just wanted to be outside and dance. That’s why I went back home. After a while, I made new friends but I guess my surrounding thought I was with the wrong type of people, I only found out about that later. That was why my dad asked me if I wanted to go back to New York. I really didn’t expect that at that time, especially since he always urged his kids to finish high school back home before going somewhere.

How many brothers and sisters do you have to have?

Ohhh (smiles). Ten brothers and five sisters.

Wow, big family. Do you remember how the moment felt like when you arrived in New York for the very first time?

I remember seeing all these huge buildings. Everything was just so surreal, I was super excited. However, at that time I was staying with my family so I didn’t really go out, just with my family to places like Coney Island. Nothing really crazy.

Did you have a mentor living in New York?

Yeah, a couple, I would say about four or five. There was a dancehall crew called Flava Expression which I joined later on. Two of the members, Javar and Anthony, were in Jamaica but then moved to New York, and we ended up going to the same school. Lamont Joseph – he worked as a custodian at their apartment complex, would see us practicing every day outside the building and then, one day, he was able to get us training in the building’s community. From there on, we have been taught things like the importance of stretching, and even some basics from other dance styles like modern and ballet. Then, later on, I met Anthony Rodriguez who was artistic director of the non-profit dance center The Door. I guess he just loved my energy. I was so hungry to learn and very grateful to be able to take some classes which I never had before. Through Anthony, I met so many other amazing people, some from the musical „In the Heights“ as well. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. They also asked me if I wanted to act and I was like Oh, ok (laughs). It was all just so amazing. They shaped me a lot but also the fact that I started traveling at such a young age and that I was always surrounded by a company that was older than me.

You then started to choreograph your own pieces. What do you think makes a good choreographer?

It is the way that the person listens to the music and the way they connect with their bodies. It is not just about putting steps together. In order to find specific transitions, you really have to know and understand your body. All of the real things that we feel, we feel when we dance as well. And then it is really all about postures. The way you express your emotions, is a different posture.

Which recording artists influenced you most, especially in your dancing?

Usher would be my number one. And Chris Brown for sure. Their singing and movement was the first thing I was inspired by. And then a lot of afro beat artist like Wizkid and definitely my brother Blacka.

Hell yeah! Amazing! Looking back at all of your experiences, what would you recommend to someone from your island who would like to go the same way that you chose?

I would try to advice that person of a bit of a similar path, but without the mistakes that I’ve made (laughs).

Mistakes like…?

No big mistakes, just smaller ones like deciding how to work and how to be more organized because in the beginning I wasn’t any of that at all. I’d also definitely urge anyone to have an open mind for learning and to never ever limit yourself, but to explore as much as you can. You definitely have to make sure you’re willing to put that hard work out there. You can’t even allow yourself to stop… But on the other hand, it is still important to take time for yourself. Take time to breath and to re-center yourself as well. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself and you don’t want to get too excited. Be patient with yourself as well. But still, you gotta work your ass off (laughs). Try your best to push through and be strong and enjoy the process. If you go after that one goal and it doesn’t happen the way you expect it to, you don’t want to give up. Continue finding solutions, continue learning how to adapt yourself. And just be nice (laughs).

You worked your ass off so hard that you ended up having a nervous breakdown. Can we speak a little bit about that? How did it come to that point and what helped you get back on your feet?

I think I was just overworking myself and kind of suppressing how I was feeling. I did so many things and a lot was happening. Too much was going through my mind. At a certain point, I was just like Fuck everything (long pause). Going through something like this, you have to just pick yourself back up. Honestly, that is just how it is.

And that makes you so much stronger…

Definitely, because you understand what the issues were. And you got to figure out how to move on.

Was there someone or something in particular that gave you the strength to stand up again?

The way I would make my students feel. The way I would help them to express themselves. I definitely appreciated the classes. And then the moments somebody just randomly messaged me saying how much I inspired them or took them out of a bad place… Just to see them smiling is an amazing feeling.

Beautiful. It’s always a give and take. That’s the beautiful thing about life.

For sure. To see everyone’s reaction when I create something is just …woooah (laughs).

Most recently, what has become your motivation source? Where do you gain your personal strength?

I think only recently, I discovered my purpose. Don’t get me wrong, it has always been on my mind, just even through my journey of exploring, being a teacher inspiring people. But this idea that I did something right came from seeing the kids back home and how I can inspire them. You know, the good thing about being the wanderer is that I ended up finding what I was looking for.

Beautiful. How important is in your opinion creative exchange for an artist? Or even the idea of creative communities? You are experiencing this now on another level, with danca family, living here together in Los Angeles in a sort of creative hub.

Oh yeah. The great thing is that we all have a solution for each other’s problem, or maybe an answer, a key for each person’s door. We can unlock so many doors together just by collaborations and by talking about ideas. Just by giving. I think we all got to the point that we understood we are the best at what we do since nobody does what we do as individuals. Each person has their own thing. Us coming together now means that we are sharing everything. And that is great since we push each other and inspire each other as well. We became a family.

That is very special! You all make music, too. When did you start recording your own music?

In high school, I would always be in the choir… also when I moved to New York. After I graduated, I ended up joining a group of friends called C5 and after that I joined Let Me Hear Dat (LMHD). All we had was a mic desktop. We were so determined and pushed through. We would record and record until we got it kind of clear, then we would go to the open mic. One of our songs actually got back on the radio. It was on lionlove radio station. Moving on, I then focussed more on dancing. Though every time I got the chance, I would still record, but I felt people didn’t take me as seriously. I was also broke for a while. That’s why I was like alright, I need to learn how to do this myself, you know.

…which is such a great thing about technology, that you don’t necessarily need a recording studio anymore to do cool stuff, or to at least experiment.

Yeah. When I got to the point of being able to afford a laptop and a mic, I just started trying out different things. Over the years, I would try my best to get into the studio with somebody that knew what they were doing. I would also just jump on youtube and learn from there. Now, I’m super confident in it.

That’s amazing. What would your message be for all artists that struggle right now, due to the effects of the pandemic?

Now is the time to tap into yourself, tap into who you are. We are all blessed with something, we just need to dig deeper and figure out what it is, right? And then: learn some new skills as well. There are so many things out there. A lot of them are fun. Don’t stop creating, don’t stop growing, continue seeking inspiration and inspiring others and keep on learning, from other people too. Just don’t stop.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

I would like to see myself more balanced and just continuously inspiring the next generation of artists. But definitely with some more structure. I already have plans for what I want to do and I’m willing to work as hard as I can to get there. And I will appreciate that journey.

That is the key. It is all about the journey.

Exactly. I could say so many things but, you know, things change so quickly… Every day is different.

Every day is a new chance. Now, I have a few short questions for you. You can just answer them as spontaneously and as long as you like. You ready?

Yeah….

Nike or Adidas?

Oh my gosh (laughs). That is so hard. Ok, let me be honest with myself: Adidas.

Wow. I did not expect that.

Yeah, I like the styles. And for me, to have good shoes I can dance in, I usually have to spent more money for, otherwise they can easily give me pain.

Do you have a favorite pair of shoes you like to dance in?

Now this is very conflicting again (laughs). I have a favorite from both Nike and Adidas. One for sure are the Airforce 1, but since I dance different styles, I need softer ones when I do some of my crazy stuff. But honestly, I haven’t shopped in a while, I got to see what’s on the market (laughs).

Yeah, check it out. Ok, next question: daytime or nighttime?

Daytime.

Money or fame?

Money.

Really?!

I think of all the people, of all of that I could do with it.

Smart, ok. The greatest song of all time?

Oh, oh, oh. I think Michael Jackson, You Rock my World.

Such a great song, I love it too. The hottest bedroom jam of all time?

Virginity by Vybz Kartel (laughs). Wait, you did say hottest. Maybe Romping Shop by Vybz Kartel.

Your favorite drink?

I like a little whiskey. On ice.

Your biggest childhood crush childhood?

Rihanna.

Your very first kiss?

Huh, that was maybe in fourth or fifth grade.

Where did it happen?

At an outdoor basketball court where we would usually go after school to hang out (laughs).

Your worst one-night stand?

I am not sure if I had a one-night stand….

Oh what a lie, come on, I am so curious.

I have to think (laughs). Ok, I got slapped once.

I’m sorry, that is hilarious. What did you do?

She was just crazy… (laughs) A really, really weird girl.

Your favorite sex position?

Wow (laughs). Foot pon shoulder.

Okkkk… The Hook… Imagine your absolute dream concert?
That would be a concert with Danca Mafia. How amazing that would be.

Epic! Your biggest weakness?

Chocolate.

Your biggest strength?

My ability to adapt. I take some time to really observe and figure things out.

Interview: Sina Braetz

Photography Jessica Lehrman
Styling & Creative Direction Sina Braetz
Video Editor Noe Cassi @noedelanuit
Hair Passion Thirteen @flaminhotswithchees
Styling Assistance Carolin Becker

Fashion Credits:

COVER:
look Balenciaga, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, necklace Romy Collection via @tata__la, earrings Leigh Miller

LOOK 1
top and pants Bottega Veneta, shoes Dior, necklace, earrings and bracelet Leigh Miller

LOOK 2
vest and pants Noon Goons, earrings and necklace Leigh Miller

LOOK 3
jacket, top, pants Emporio Armani, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, bracelet, earrings, necklace Leigh Miller

LOOK 4
jacket, blouse and necklace Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, pants Collini, shoes collins, earrings Ellie Vail Jewelry via @tata__la

LOOK 5
jacket Jetpack hom(m)e, top and pants Phlemuns, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, necklace Romy Collection via @tata__la , earrings Leigh Miller

LOOK 6
jacket and pants Dsquared2, boots Collini, ring Leigh Miller

LOOK 7
jacket and pants Dsquared2, boots Collini, ring Leigh Miller

LOOK 8
vest and pants Noon Goons, earrings and necklace Leigh Miller

LOOK 9
top and pants Bottega Veneta, shoes Dior, necklace, earrings and bracelet Leigh Miller

LOOK 10
jacket Jetpack hom(m)e, top and pants Phlemuns, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, necklace Romy Collection via @tata__la , earrings Leigh Miller

LOOK 11
jacket and pants Dsquared2, boots Collini, ring Leigh Miller, earrings Ellie Vail Jewelry via @tata__la

LOOK 12
shirt and pants Dior, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, cross pendant necklace Sofio Gongliashvili via @tata__la

LOOK 13
jacket, top, pants Emporio Armani, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, bracelet, earrings, necklace Leigh Miller

LOOK 14
look Balenciaga, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, necklace Romy Collection via @tata__la, earrings Leigh Miller

LOOK 15
suit Collini, top Phlemuns, shoes Emporio Armani, earrings Leigh Miller

LOOK 16
jacket Jetpack hom(m)e, top and pants Phlemuns, shoes Giuseppe Zanotti, necklace Romy Collection via @tata__la , earrings Leigh Miller

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