Community conversation with Cornelius Cambronero of Totem Star

Tran Tonnu, SOWA Marketing Manager, sat down with Cornelius Cambronero (also known by his artist name Kid Cobb or Cobb) as the Program Assistant Coordinator at Totem Star. The organization is committed to supporting a diverse community of young recording artists learning music and life skills through mentorship and meaningful relationships. In this interview, Cobb shares how he was introduced to Totem Star in high school 7 years ago and started his journey of being a musician. During this time he has fostered a community that has supported him in both his artist and life journey. He also shares his thoughts on the difficulties that young artists face today in Seattle and how Totem Star’s vision for a more just society where all young people have access to music helps address these issues.

Cornelius Cambronero (also known by his artist name Kid Cobb or Cobb)

Tran: How did you come to connect with Totem Star?

Cobb: “I first came across Totem Star in high school when I was a junior. I did a poetry program through Youth Speaks, which is well known in the Seattle poet community, that had a cross-over with songwriting and recording with Totem Star. At the time, the program was in the same building where both communities (Totem Star and Youth Speaks) were established. The rest is kind of history.” 

“We started recording and making music in that program and it just kind of evolved into a  journey of me being an artist and a musician. It’s honestly been one of the best communities and experiences that I’ve had. Throughout all these years, almost 7 or 8 years, I’ve been a part of this community and they’ve always really been there to support me through my artist journey and also through my life journey and who I am as a person which is extremely important. One thing that Daniel Pak (Executive Director and Co-Founder of Totem Star) likes to say is that we’re family and that’s what we’re about.”   

Tran: In your bio on the Totem Star website, you talk about music being a bridge to stay connected to community. Can you share more about this?

Cobb: “When I create music or any piece of art, I hope that it has an impact on bringing people together and creating space for people to reflect on my art and also to have difficult conversations…or conversations about subjects that aren’t really mainstream. What makes me most excited to create is when I put my things out there and there are people listening and can claim a sense of identity to the things that I create and I think that’s really powerful.”.  

Tran: You talked about your art as a space where conversations are generated. I would love to know more about a recent piece of art that did this.        

Cobb: “I put out a music video a year ago. It came from an idea to reflect the community of the people that my college actually represented. When you go to a predominantly white liberal arts college, they don’t really like to give people of color a lot of opportunities or a lot of accommodation and just acknowledge their presence. Within my art and in my video, I was able to reflect and show that my community is beautiful and powerful. That’s what that whole video and project embodied. I think a lot of people who were also part of that project were honestly very grateful to just be represented, to be able to be seen and known for who they are.

Tran: What was the name of that music video? 

Cobb: It’s called CTV, it’s abbreviated for Catch These Vibes.  

Tran: Totem Star supports a lot of young artists. Why do you think it’s important to work with young folks? 

Cobb: “I think it’s important to work with youth because youth are oftentimes the ones forgotten within the process. At Totem Star, I like to think that no matter how old you are or how young you are there’s a place here for you.”

“When you’re in your youth, that’s when you have the most power. That’s when you’re most vocal and when you’re really kind of discovering who you are and your place in this world. If it wasn’t for a program like Totem Star, I don’t think I would have had the right resources and the right surroundings to be able to express that for myself.” 

“It brings joy to my heart to know that Totem Star is still here in the community, actively doing the work and making space for youth. From my experience, especially in the city of Seattle, they don’t really care about making room for youth to have space to express themselves to share their art and their ideas. Totem Star is definitely that place where youth can do that and find themselves.”

Tran: If you could leave a message for young artists today, what would you share with them? 

Cobb: “I would encourage them to be themselves and to be proud of that and to, excuse my French, to really not give a — about who disapproves of it or who tries to shut it down. Especially for me as an artist, one thing I’ve been learning as I’m getting into my mid-20s is to be vulnerable and to be able to put yourself into your art.” 

“We need more people to be brave, we need more people to tell their story, and it’s taking me a while to really figure out what that means even for myself. I’ve heard from all other artists, whether older or younger, wherever they’re at in their career, is to really ask what they are representing and then what their art is reflecting. Ask if those two are the same thing or if they’re different.”