Walk for Music Spotlight: Kadahj Bennett

How did you get involved with Walk for Music

I always thought it was cool – it’s so many things. It’s a parade; it’s a moving block party; it’s a celebration of the amazing community we have here. I think it’s so dope how, if you’re in the know about ZUMIX, you know there are music videos and showcases and radio shows going on at the Firehouse. When the doors are closed, not everybody knows that. But with Walk for Music, we’re saying, We’re throwing open the doors and we’re going to bring this party to you. It’s the one time all year we go out like that.

What’s the day like?

It’s kind of like a musical sandwich. We start off here, and there’s a live show at the Firehouse. We have students performing, or alumni, or staff performing. Maybe you get to hear some radio show pieces. Then we go out and we have a Trike Called Funk at the back, and the Hot Tamale Brass Band at the front. And then we end with a concert in Piers Park. So I think it’s really cool to bookend the day with music like that. 

It’s like the universal language. You hear the music, you see the celebration, you feel it – you don’t have to understand it to enjoy it and move with it. That’s kind of our whole vibe at ZUMIX: you don’t have to be part of it to enjoy it. It amplifies the bridging abilities of music. 

I love all the fanfare, too. People on their balconies – people waving, trucks honking. We get everybody swept up in the excitement. Even on the waterfront, you see people coming out onto their balconies, waving at us, wondering what we’re all about.

I also love it because I’m not an East Boston native, so getting the chance to walk the greenway like that is really cool. We’re extending our community, while exploring the community. 

How did you get involved with ZUMIX? 

It was a little happy accident. At my middle school, there was an enrichment program you could choose to do, or you could find an outside organization to take classes with. I was going to do a program through the Wang Theatre, but they didn’t have enough people, and the director, Ruth, called me. She told me about ZUMIX. 

So I reached out and left a voicemail, and then Corey [Depina] called me back. There was music playing in the background, and he was telling me about all the good stuff at ZUMIX, all the programs – it was like Hogwarts before Hogwarts. I was 13 years old, and I came and did Street Program that summer, and it blew. My. Mind.

Street Program is one of our flagship programs, where you write a song and you take it to the street.  It was only three days a week, and I could not wait for it to be Tuesday again to come back here. There were all these other young people who loved music like I did, and we were swapping CDs. And then we all got on a tour bus! That was my first time leaving the state. We went to Vermont and swam in waterfalls. I got to go to NYC and perform at City Kids, and eat Popeye’s in Times Square. 

Did you stay involved at ZUMIX?

It was a little tricky to stay involved, because I went to Boston Arts Academy and there were a lot of requirements to be in productions, and get tech points for participating in things. But ZUMIX helped me graduate with honors. BAA has a senior grant project, and I reached out to see if I could help out somehow, by teaching a class or giving theatrical direction. I got to come back and volunteer at ZUMIX as a co-facilitator. There were a bunch of skits happening between the scenes. I didn’t get paid for that, but I earned my hours for that project, and I graduated BAA with honors. 

What’s your role at ZUMIX now? 

I’m the Songwriting and Performance Manager. In addition to Street Program, we have several other programs, like Streetwise, where each participant writes an original song. Maybe you help each other; you give each other feedback on those songs. And then you come together as a team, to figure out how you want to document those songs: a playlist, a recording, or a series of music videos like we did this spring. 

We also have Rock Ed, which is our crash course in being a band. We get a bunch of people – wherever you are in the skill of musicality – and you decide what song or songs you want to play, together. We have alumni or other musical people – our volunteer mentors teach you how to play those songs. Then maybe you make some merch, and then you get to celebrate that song with the community. 

Voces is a tight-knit vocal group where students get to enjoy all the mechanics of singing in a group, and also just kicking it and learning music together. They learn theory; they learn harmony; they learn different songs and perform them together.

Then we have Rhythms of Ghana – our African drumming ensemble. They work on understanding the continent of Africa – the history, the politics – along with the drumming and the community aspect. There’s a certain vibe in Rhythms of Ghana where the students who’ve been participating a long time gain wisdom that they can share. It is a little microcosm of a community, the way they regulate themselves. I think it’s beautiful to see that community build and flourish. 

You’ve been back to BAA recently! Tell us about the ZUMIX connections there. 

One of my youth staff members for Rock Ed, Samantha Sorto, was in Wedding Band, which I was able to direct at BAA last fall as an alumni director. It’s really cool to see the building of the next generation of young people, and to see ZUMIX being that bridge to take you to other places. Samantha just starred in Our Town this spring, and they partnered with the Spanish department and the humanities teachers, so they mixed in Spanish and Haitian Creole. 

What keeps you coming back to ZUMIX?

I feel like music is timeless. It doesn’t matter how old the song is, or how new the energy is – the spark of experiencing it is always there. I love seeing people share their musical influences and seeing how that builds on itself. Our Rock Ed mentors are bringing in songs from the sixties and seventies, and our young people are into it. Music shows us how similar we are, and I think that’s really beautiful. 

Why do you Walk for Music?

‘Cause if I danced the whole time, I’d be tired! 

Kadahj Bennett is an actor, a ZUMIX alumnus, and the Songwriting and Performance Manager at ZUMIX. Donate to his Walk for Music page here!