In Roland Kemokai’s biography, he tells a story that illustrates what music meant to him as a boy growing up in Liberia.
Kemokai had been raised by foster parents after his birth parents abandoned him as a baby, and he often felt isolated and worthless in his community, he said. However, the evenings when the villagers gathered in the center of town to beat drums and dance were always a joyous time for him.
Desperate to join them, he painstakingly crafted his own log drum and, with the help of his neighborhood adults, learned percussion styles and accents.
Watch: Season for Caring Video, Kemokai Family
The Kemokai family has dealt with a loss of income during the pandemic, a doubling of rent, a fire at their hotel, and then a car accident.
Katie Hall and Nicole Villalpando, American Statesman from Austin
When she finally debuted her music at town hall, her performance was met with enthusiastic applause, she wrote.
“Beating the drum made me feel like I was in a completely different world with such joy and absolutely no pain… In that moment I was once again a human being, worthy of life and the pleasure of living it,” Kemokai wrote. .
A lot has happened in the decades since that night in Liberia. Kemokai has since moved to the United States, attended college in North Carolina, married, and had two children. He is also proficient in various musical instruments and now makes a living in the Austin area as a professional musician who composes and performs reggae music.
However, his family’s life in Austin has not been without its difficulties. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, work dried up for both Roland Kemokai, 42, and his wife, Christine Kemokai, 38, who runs her own children’s party business called Christine’s Balloons and Body Arts.
Fortunately, the self-employed were eligible for unemployment benefits at the start of the pandemic. A year and a half later, just as Roland and Christine started booking regular gigs again, their rent at Round Rock doubled.
“Every time we took a step forward, the cost of living skyrocketed,” said Christine Kemokai.
They moved out in five days, temporarily relocating to a hotel, keeping them up in the middle of the night with constantly going off fire alarms. Then one morning in October 2021, they realized the building was on fire.
“We could smell the smoke and we said, ‘This is not a fire drill. This is real,'” Roland Kemokai said. “People were running around the hotel, frantic, banging and saying, ‘You have to get out now.'”
“It was terrifying,” said Christine Kemokai.
Their possessions were saved without damage, but the Kemokais were shaken. They hit the road that day as they continued to look for apartments. Then misfortune struck again.
While driving, the family was involved in a serious car accident that injured both Christine and Roland, leading to months of doctor visits, physical therapy, and medical bills.
“One day, I stopped on the side of the road and started praying out loud and said, ‘I need help. My family depends on me,'” Roland Kemokai said.
Eventually, they bought a run-down RV and moved to a trailer park in Granger.
They hope one day to save enough to buy their own land and have a house again.
Roland and his two teenage sons, Clement, 17, and Ben, 15, sometimes play music together outside their trailer, but Roland said he’s worried about disturbing his neighbors.
“We weren’t too rowdy today, were we?” she once nervously asked the man who lives in the trailer adjacent to them.
“It was great,” the neighbor replied. “I was hoping you’d play it louder.”
Plus:Read more stories from Season of Care
The wishes of the Kemokai family:
A new or used car in good condition; the dream of owning a home on land or assistance with rent and utilities; assistance with medical bills; music tutoring for Roland; real estate investment tutoring; extended collapsible wagon for the care of concert equipment; orthodontics; eyeglasses; Lasik for Christine; mixing bowls; glass beakers; kitchen corner shelf; milk frother; microwave oven rack; single-dose coffee maker; mixer; chopping boards; bread box; butter dish; loungers; mini pocket projector; seat cushions; fireproof filing cabinet; spill vacuum cleaner; an RTX 3070 TI graphics card for computer software work; SD cards; video camera; computers; monitors; desks and portable desks; standing desk chair and artist desk; Bluetooth speaker; Camera equipment; director’s chair; music equipment, including in-ear monitors; wireless guitar system; guitar loop pedal; guitar pedalboard; keyboard; portable monitor; studio monitor headphones, microphone and microphone stand; iPad pencil; glass for cleaning brushes; Nintendo Switch and games: Rubix Cube; Play Station 5 and games; Dog’s Toys; dog bed; dog water bottle – a family trip; season passes to Six Flags; hand massager; gift cards for clothing and gift cards to HEB, Walmart Amazon, JC Penney, Guitar Center, Visa, Steam and gas stations.
Wish List available on Amazon.
Nominated by: Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, HAAM, 3010 S. Lamar Blvd., No 200, Austin TX 78704. 512-541-4226; myhaam.org.
Your mission: Provide access to affordable health care for low-income working musicians in the greater Austin area, with a focus on prevention and wellness.
Posted 11:28am UTC Nov 23, 2022 Updated 11:28am UTC Nov 23, 2022