III Points Festival

For Fudakochi, Music Was the Only Thing That Ever Made Sense

Fudakochi has always believed he was living on a different planet. The Overtown native didn't talk for the first seven years of his life and instead watched everything revolve past him like a movie. Then, as his mother tells it, on his seventh birthday he uttered his first word: “disappear.” Soon after took up piano and singing.

For the next 27 years, Fudakochi honed in on the paradox between the alienation and compassion he perceived in his life. It reflects in his music, he says, a genre he calls “soulternative,” a term he came up to depict his blending of otherworldly electronic sounds with his deep, dulcet voice.

But bad luck, the untimely death of his brother, and homelessness nearly destroyed him, forcing Fudakochi to abandon music for the last two years. Now, he's back and releasing a new album, The State of Euphoria, that he will be performing for the first time at III Points.

“Life was hard and I felt like an outcast,” Fudakochi says. “Basically, I might be a purple alien and you're a human but we have the same issues. Musically, the album is left field but lyrically it isn't.”

His father named him Fudakochi after a karate master known for his love, strength, and honor. He prefers to keep his last name private. He's the third-born of six brothers and sisters. His father was a Haitian compas musician, a style that's rooted in méringue. He exposed Fudakochi to Caribbean beats from an early age before nudging him toward Phil Collins and Jimi Hendrix. After school and during the summer, a then-12-year-old Fudakochi would sing on the Overtown street corners, taking requests and accepting spare coins from passersby. “The music bug has always been there inside me. Ever since I was really little everything about music made sense and everything I experienced had a part in it,” he says.

Fudakochi was accepted to the prestigious music magnet program at South Miami Middle School. When he was in sixth grade he says his teachers placed him in the eighth-grade choir. He was also the only student from Overtown in the program and says he was mercilessly bullied at school and, again, on the streets. Since money was tight at home, Fudakochi began working as a bag boy at Winn-Dixie and at a car wash when he was 14.

When he was in high school, his parents divorced. His father returned to Haiti and his mother moved to Atlanta. Fudakochi, though, stayed in Miami and lived on his own with friends. At the time, he was working at a Wendy's in Carol City. Since he didn't have a car and his shift didn't end until 2 a.m., it wasn't uncommon for Fudakochi to sleep on bus benches until the first public bus departed at 5 a.m. He'd take the bus directly to Miami Central Senior High School, where he was on the marching band and choir.

Growing up as a black kid in Overtown in the early '90s was tough. He says he was often roughed up by police. One time, he says, an officer tackled him to the ground when he was in high school. He was accused of stealing a police car. “I didn't even know how to drive a car,” he says, shaking his head. Then, another time, he landed in detention for hugging a white classmate. He says school policy forbids touching, but Fudakochi believes the rule was unevenly applied. “Black people have been oppressed. A lot of education was supposed to be given to us, but it was given in a different way from white people in Coral Gables and South Miami,” he says. “This lack of education comes into play and it brings self-destruction.”

Fudakochi's older brother, Mark Raymond, preferred hip-hop like Tupac and Biggie Smalls. But even though Fudakochi's music was more soulful than what he was used to, he was always his biggest fan. After shows and recitals, he would always offer his little brother constructive criticism. Even when Mark Raymond slipped into drugs, his brother remained one of Fudakochi's biggest influences. The two even started making music together. “I looked up to him. He was one of my musical heroes and he really molded me to the artist I am today,” he says of his brother.

Whereas his brother spiraled into the wrong crowd, Fudakochi was accepted on a full scholarship to the University of Miami's Frost School of Music. He'd drop out after his first year to attend a more rigorous program at the University of Northern Texas. There he paired up with an alternative band called Zero Gravity as their lead vocalist. When their manager arranged a tour throughout Europe, Fudakochi dropped out of school again. “We went to Germany, Amsterdam, Madrid, London,” he says. “I always felt like I didn't belong so anywhere was cool with me.”

By 2007, Fudakochi had returned from Europe, but his band had dissipated. He graduated from New York University with a degree in music education, yet he was wary of returning to Miami. He eventually did return home to release his first album, Stay Free Movement. He recorded everything with his own equipment at his house and put the album out on his own. But without a manager it fell on deaf ears. “Miami has grown but it has a lot of growing to do,” he points out. “Artists here don't get a fair shake like they would in New York.”

Fudakochi was discouraged, but his life only seemed to get worse. His brother, Mark Raymond, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and passed away unexpectedly in 2011. Fudakochi retreated to his music, and released a second album called Alien Love in 2012. But, like the first album, it didn't do very well either. “My brother's death — it's all in the music,” he says. “The album is very depressing and it's huge reflection of what I was going through.”

Then, two burglaries left Fudakochi without equipment, instruments, or the hard drive that held all of his recordings. And, after spending all his earnings on releasing the last album, Fudakochi went homeless for a time, sleeping in his car and on friend's couches. He gave up on music, took a job at Panther Coffee, and thought he'd never look back. “I just left everything; I walked away,” he says. “I guess I was in grief.”

It was around this time, in 2013, that Fudakochi began studying Buddhism. He tried to be optimistic, but felt lousy that he wasn't making music anymore. “It was a struggle to get there — I had no instruments or anything — but I wholeheartedly made a decision to come back,” he says.

In September 2014, he recorded ten songs at his manager's recording studio in Cincinnati. “I locked myself in, secluded myself, and let it all out,” he says. He released his single, "U+Me=Us," and produced a music video. It was well-received, and Fudakochi began performing at small local venues until he got his break: opening for Hank & Cupcakes on Valentine's Day at Bardot. “It was a blessing,” he says.

He soon flagged the attention of David Sinopoli, III Points cofounder, who told him that his voice was “phenomenal.” When he asked him if he'd like to perform at this year's III Points festival, Fudakochi thought the offer was too good to be true.

But, almost seven months later, Fudakochi is set to perform on this Saturday's line up, and he couldn't be happier. “I'm so excited. III Points is really important. It's my first festival as a solo performer,” he says. “This is my comeback.”

Fudakochi during III Points, with Run the Jewels, Toro y Moi, Ghostface Killah and Doom, and others. 6 p.m. Saturday, October 10, at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; manawynwood.com. Tickets cost $55 to $110 plus fees via squadup.com.
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson