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PYSK: Martin Kamau

PYSK: Martin Kamau

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  • Photo by Keith Borgmeyer

Music Director, True/False Film Fest and Ragtag Film Society

Hometown

San Francisco, California.

Years lived in Columbia

16.

Job description

I’m a music curator, booker, and organizer for the True/False Film Fest. Overall, there are over 200 individual musical performances throughout the festival, and we’ve expanded the program to include off-season shows that promote current, former, and future festival musicians throughout the year. True/False is ostensibly a film festival, but music has played an integral role since its inception with concerts and parties throughout the four-day weekend, a parade that takes over downtown Columbia, events with musicians around every corner, and, perhaps most uniquely, the live concerts that precede each film screening (of which there’s usually around 140). 

Professional background

I came to Columbia to study at MU and then stuck around afterward working as a barista and bartender with the intention of reading a lot of books and writing a lot of words in my free time and eventually writing the next Great American Novel. That novel thing obviously didn’t work out, but luckily people liked the music that I played at the places of my employment, and I started booking shows. This upcoming year will be my fifth at True/False and fourth as music director, and I had been booking shows at Cafe Berlin prior to the pandemic.

Quote you live by

I wish I had one. If I could live my life by one quote, I’d be set. I think “The Golden Rule” is a most profound collection of words, but I definitely struggle to live by it. 

Favorite volunteer/community activity 

I have a late-night radio show on KOPN, and I’ve been guest-hosting a couple of others. I’ve always been a big radio enthusiast, so it’s been a privilege and a joy getting into the studio and further subjecting people to the music I like, mostly in the low-stakes theatre of midnight community radio.

Favorite recent project

With the pandemic and its effects, this year’s festival is going to be a completely different entity than it has been in the past, with a shift from March to May and from downtown to Stephens Lake Park. Music should play an even more expanded role with concerts and buskers throughout the park and throughout the day until it’s dark enough to screen films. I’m excited for the challenge and its opportunities. 

A Columbia business person you admire and why

I’ve always admired Richard King and how he was able to transform the town through his many ventures in music, and I’ve always been equally impressed by his humility and genuine connection to the community. 

Why you are passionate about your job

I get to reach out to some of my favorite artists and convince them to come out to my town and hang out for a while, which is really cool. Also, I think that I’ve always been drawn to being a host in the sense that I like controlling the space around me and making sure that everyone is having the best possible time.

Why you are passionate about your organization

True/False has long been my favorite thing that happens in Columbia. I was a longtime pass-holder before I started working for the organization, so it’s been an honor to have an impact in a meaningful way for something that’s so meaningful to me. 

What people should know about your profession

There’s lots of emails.  

If you weren’t doing this for a living, you would

I used to want to be a doctor, but I didn’t have the patience.

The next challenge facing your industry

We’re currently unable to hold live music events indoors — at least in any substantive way — so that’s quite the hurdle. I do think that a lot of interesting art will come out of this peculiar joint trauma we’ve been all experiencing, though, and I think that when things can go back to normal, it will come back with a force and come back to a hungry and appreciative audience.  

Your next professional goal

I’d eventually like to have my own venue somewhere down the line, and perhaps even my own festival.

Biggest lesson learned in business

Go for what you want and tell the truth. Even if you don’t immediately get what you want as a result of your honesty, sincerity is both hard to replicate and hard to forget, so there’s a good chance it will eventually pay off. That makes honesty not only the best policy, but also a good investment. 

How you want to impact the Columbia community

I hope what I do makes people happy, or at least makes them think.

Greatest strength

I think I have good instincts. For this job, that means having good taste and understanding what the audience will appreciate, but also knowing when to defer to the people around me.

Greatest weakness

I’m pretty hard on myself, which perhaps is a different way of saying, “I’m a perfectionist” — that clichéd answer to this classic question — but I’d definitely be more efficient if I gave myself a break. 

What you do for fun

I listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of things on screens, as my occupation would suggest. I also enjoy reading and writing, and I’m pretty obsessed with sports. 

Family

I’m the oldest of five with four younger sisters. My wonderful sister Malaika moved to Columbia about eight years ago.  

Favorite place in Columbia

Hittsville (Uprise Bakery, Hitt Records, Ragtag Cinema) and Coffee Zone.

Accomplishment you are most proud of

Festivals aren’t tangible things that have a permanent place in our lives. They exist because a group of people want it to exist, so they work hard and put it into existence for a fleeting moment in time. I have high standards, and I’m proud that my team doesn’t make concessions. We take a modest budget and book the best possible music we can find and throw the best concerts and the best parties, and we manufacture a special experience that didn’t exist before we decided to make it so.

Most people don’t know that you

I’m an extremely private and guarded person, and I’ve never participated in any social media, so I’m sure everything I’ve said thus far is a revelation to most. 

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