Miami DJ and Producer Kairo Gudino, AKA CHALK., Passes Away at 23

Kairo Gudino
Kairo Gudino
Courtesy of Kairo Gudino's Family

The most talented and bighearted soul I've ever had the privilege of calling my friend has passed away. Kairo Gudino, AKA CHALK., was a producer with releases on Nervous Records, Mr. Nice Guy, Loveless, and other labels. He was a DJ, singer, rapper, artist, designer, and all-around creative human. He was 23.

Kairo was born April 29, 1993, in Caracas, Venezuela. His family soon moved to Miami, where he grew up, went to school, made friends, and found his calling. Kairo's whole world was music. He produced his first beat at the age of 15, and by 19, he was making waves around town, playing venues from Blackbird Ordinary to the Electric Pickle, moving people to connect with one another through his mixes and original productions.

Kairo was one of those rare souls inherently gifted with the spirit of rhythm and the feeling of an age. His music overflowed with a sound both nostalgic and futuristic. He dressed like the cool dude in a vintage cartoon, like he'd time-traveled from 1993 and stepped into some multicolored, hallucinogenic future we still have yet to experience.

He was heavily inspired by Larry Levan, J Dilla, Lou Reed, the people of Overtown, and weirdos who existed at the edge of time and insanity. He was so easy to like. He wasn't a perfect man. He did bad things, and he hurt people, but he believed in the good nature of all. That trait made him naive, and it opened him up to corruption and pain. He was too trusting. Everything that was his ruin was what made him beautiful.

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He didn't graduate from high school. He left home at a young age and wandered into the gritty, glamorous, dangerous, lavish, drug-fueled world of South Beach. He found a lot of attention with a track called “Tropical Boy.” He fell in love. He collected a wall of records and rainbow-print jackets from thrift stores. He moved in with a good friend in Edgewater and made seven beats at a time while living on his friend's couch.

I was on Holy Ship in 2013, and I remember staying up the last night until the ship emptied. I was on the deck with friends when someone came up and started talking about how he'd been in the room with Claude VonStroke and the Dirtybird crew listening to some kid's demo. It blew everyone away, and VonStroke kicked the lot of them out of his room so he could listen intently. One guy said, “The kid is basically homeless in Miami; his friend was passing out the demo. It's fucking insane.” I asked who the music was by, and he told me: “Some guy named CHALK.” I exploded with pride.

I wrote him up as the Best Young Talent for Miami New Times' Best of Miami issue a few months later. I remember hanging out with Kairo on my balcony while reading emails from Claude VonStroke asking him to rework certain tracks. It never panned out. I think that's around the time things began to change, around the time he started using heroin.

I didn't know he was using. I didn't know by that October, during the first III Points. I think everyone who was there will forever fondly remember the Boiler Room party he and his friends hosted at a Wynwood loft. The place was packed with hipsters. Jamie XX was drinking beers in the kitchen. Kairo was trippin' out that he'd lost his USB and was going on in 20 minutes. He was just going to have to do an all-vinyl set. Most DJs today don't even know how to do that.

I saw him do it again a year later at III Points 2014. I got this call from him about 30 minutes before his set: “Kat, I can't find my USB. Can you take me to my place so I can get my records?” We rushed over, he grabbed two crates, and we rushed back. He set up, he started mixing, the tiny crowd in front of the small DJ booth outside slowly swelled into a sizable audience. People were hooting and hollering, and I remember just standing and watching, so happy. I had learned at some point in the past year about his addiction. I knew he was struggling when I saw people rush him after the set, thanking him for an amazing time, surrounding him like some kind of underground star. The next day, he took to Facebook:

It hit me only yesterday when I heard of his death how that was the last time I ever saw him perform. I hate to admit it, but it might even be the last time I saw him alive. A month later, he was homeless. He spent the last year and a half of his life in and out of jail, in and out of shelters, in and out of halfway houses. His family did not abandon him. His mother would meet him, feed him, take him to places to get better, but he would leave the next day.

Even though he was sick, even though his mind was twisted by an overwhelming and destructive urge, he was free to live his will. We kept in contact via Facebook and text. Every few months, I'd get a message, a sign of life. At times he sounded insane. I felt so helpless. It got very dark. I didn't know what to do or say. I just told him that I cared — that I would never stop believing in him. I know he knew that.

I talked to Kairo Friday, July 15. He'd just gotten out of jail. I told him about Pokémon Go. He sounded like his old self. He was sober. His friend Ariel had just died of drug abuse days earlier. I didn't know Ariel, but he was another beloved member of Miami's music scene, and Kairo was saying he didn't want to go like that. “Fuck drugs,” he told me. I told him our conversation was the best start to my day. We said we would get coffee together soon.

Kairo died Monday, July 18. He isn't my only friend struggling with heroin. He's not the only person I know to die from heroin abuse. His story is not unique, but his spirit is unmatchable, his talent inarguable, and his death should not be in vain. We as a community are in dire need of a discussion about drug abuse and the toll it is taking on our loved ones. We need to make our voices heard by our city officials. We need to have more programs for those suffering. My friend shouldn't have spent the last year and a half of his life on the street. I should have been writing about his music for years, watching his ascent through his talents. I should not be writing his obituary, but I am.

I once told him his style captured those weird, silent moments in life when you've been partying all night and the sun is up, and there's that one guy still talking a million miles a minute, but you're just trying so hard to fall asleep in spite of all the chemicals running through your brain. Those are sticky, raw, real moments. They're awkward, silent moments people don't talk about. Whenever I see a sunrise, I'll hear his laid-back, syncopated beats; his lazy, raspy flow. In my heart, those are the moments where Kairo existed, where he still exists, where we will sit together in spirit, just being chill from '93 till infinity.

RIP, my friend.

Kairo Gudino's family will host a funeral service Saturday, July 23, from 8 to 11 a.m. at Vista Funeral Home, 14200 NW 57th Ave., Miami Lakes.


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