Artist’s work recognized with a City of Boulder Multicultural Award
By Kerry Parry
I’m not sure how I’ll identify award-winning filmmaker and hip-hop artist Musa Starseed at the coffee shop in the back of Alfalfa’s market. But, he is easy to spot, sitting in the corner with an aura of coolness. Plus, he is the only black man in the store. Race isn’t something I typically give much thought to, but I know Starseed has written an as-yet-unpublished memoir, Surviving Racism in America, so the topic is fresh as I make my way through a community of sameness.
Starseed is a multi-dimensional artist who is impossible to label. When asked to
describe what he does, he leans back and smiles. “I am a cultural ambassador, a filmmaker, a dancer, an artist, an educator.” He adds: “I don’t think of any of it as a job. It’s soul work.”
Starseed created a film about the history of hip-hop in Cuba, “Soulz of Azucar,” with plans for a series of films about hip-hop’s history and origins. He tells me hip-hop includes four elements: DJing, break dancing, rapping and graffiti art.
“Why Cuba?” I ask.
“Hip-hop originated in the South Bronx, but it has so many tendrils throughout the islands,” he says.
Although hip-hop had popped up in the 1970s, Starseed was interested in the origins of the genre as people were channeled through the Caribbean en route to the States: “I think the people in Cuba and places like it are doing it right,” he says.
“You can hardly hold Cuba up as a paragon for human rights,” I say.
“No, no, it’s the people.”
Starseed makes me realize that Cuban hip-hop has nothing to do with the country or government of Cuba; it’s a result of it. No matter how oppressed human beings may be, art has a way of breaking through barriers like a flower growing through cracks in cement.
He adds: “Music tells a story that gives people a sense of ‘groundedness.’”
Starseed is initially from Brooklyn, N.Y. He came to Boulder to attend CU where he earned a BFA in film production and is currently working toward his master’s in education. He is the director and founder of Black Sun Cinema.
“We live in a multi-chromatic world,” Starseed says. “Who wants to experience monochrome only?”
Moving to Boulder was a bit of a culture shock. “It’s different for sure, but my mom and I came out here looking for a different life. It was hard, though. I had a friend who didn’t make it. He committed suicide.”
The sorrow behind his friend’s death made it clear that carving out a life for yourself in a community that may welcome you superficially without really making room for you (via housing, job opportunities and a sense of belonging) isn’t easy.
How welcome Starseed felt is debatable. That became clear on January 31, 2015, when three Broomfield police cars approached him while he sat at a bus stop. He had been identified as a burglary suspect and was arrested. He spent five hours in a jail cell doing yoga to maintain his composure. Eventually, police determined that Starseed’s accuser had a story that didn’t hold up to scrutiny. She later admitted to making the whole thing up.
Starseed’s attitude was to learn from the experience. He says he didn’t want to perpetuate the feeling of victimhood; instead he was interested in “alchemizing it; turning negativity into positivity.”
He turned those words into action with his book and plans for a documentary, “Invisible Masks,” which will include his story, along with those of many others who share similar experiences. The documentary looks at the resiliency, compassion and strength it takes to thrive in a predominantly white community. “Once people feel the story, it opens up the mind,” he says. He’s crowdfunding the documentary on GoFundMe.
Starseed is opening minds throughout the community through performances, dance instruction and mentoring youth. He plays flute and his music can be found on Soundcloud. He is a popular and accomplished DJ for local events. He hosts Latin Dance parties on Saturday nights. It’s as if he’s lighting lanterns throughout Boulder, illuminating the rich diversity all around town. In 2017, he received a multicultural award from the city of Boulder for his work. “We live in a multi-chromatic world,” he says. “Who wants to experience monochrome only?”
As a university town, Boulder is rich in multicultural opportunities. But it doesn’t seem, at first glance, to have much diversity. “Oh they’re there, the people of Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal and more,” says Starseed. “You don’t see them because they’re working two or three jobs. They are the custodians, the service workers. They’re in the backs of kitchens. That’s why I enjoy my involvement in art, music, dance, culture, education. These things build community or common unity.”
Despite the community’s challenges, Starseed maintains an upbeat attitude. “I think of that quote, ‘The map is not the territory,’ a phrase originally coined by Alfred Korzybski. If I mistake the map for my reality, I’m so limited,” he says. “There is a rhythm to this world. You have to find it and move with it, working within the boundaries and expanding them. You have to dance.”
Kerry Parry is a longtime Colorado resident, freelance writer, blogger, and author of Conversations with the Faithful: Seeking Enlightenment Over Lunch.