Updated: Oct 22, 2021
| This is the 593rd story of Our Life Logs® |
This is the story of Starve Marve as captured by the team at Our Life Logs. The following is brought to you in partnership with Guitars Over Guns, and organization that aims to change the lives of disadvantaged students through music and strong, consistent mentorship. We hope you check them out!
Born in South Florida in 1990 as a first-generation Nigerian American, my parents brought a lot of their African roots into my upbringing. Traditional African music filled the house and, if you strained your ear, you just might hear my mom quietly muttering in Yoruba as she prepared dinner. I was living a culmination of thousands of years of diverse culture.
Music was a big part of my childhood and culture. Aside from the traditional music, Dad was a DJ, and I’d often tag along on his party gigs. He was so devoted to the job that he’d work hours over his slot if it meant improving that night’s sound. I really can’t tell you how many nights I fell asleep under the DJ table as I waited for Dad to finish up. In those days, I was exposed to all of Dad’s favorites like disco, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, and 50 Cent.
Maybe I was inspired by my dad or maybe just by other kids at my school, but I started learning how to produce music when I was 13. Back then, you didn’t have YouTube tutorials. Instead, you’d crack a programming software and use it for free. After working around the viruses that I probably (okay, definitely) gave my computer, I got pretty good at it.
As a teen, I spent a lot of time with my cousin and his friends in Atlanta who would have rap battles in the hot summer air. The pastor’s son at my dad’s church would also collaborate and talk about rap with me.
I watched video after video full of rappers with tattoos, gold chains, and braided hair. I wanted to sound and look just like them, naturally. When I asked to get my hair braided, I was met with a resounding NO from my parents. All I ever heard was, “we don’t do that.” Yes, even my dad who loved rap music wouldn’t let me be anything like them! I get it in hindsight, of course. In Nigeria, the way you carry a bag or the type of pants you wear says something about who you are in society. How you’re perceived is everything. But in America, those sorts of details don’t matter as much. You have the freedom to express yourself. Still, my parents had grown up with these specific standards and were simply trying to raise me to be a “good Nigerian son.”
Now, let me be clear. It wasn’t like I was deprived. I had a great childhood. There were just a lot of expectations and rules I had to follow and I trusted them enough to let little things like that go.
After I graduated high school, I knew skipping college wasn’t an option. Education is essential to success in Nigerian families. Sure, my parents loved music, but their culture viewed success in a very traditional and linear way. If you weren’t a student, then you got married and started a family. Becoming a rapper wasn’t something a Nigerian “did.” I was okay with accepting those expectations at the time. I agreed that college was important. So, music was pushed to the side.
Me in high school.
When it came time to figure out what I wanted to study... well, I did what a lot of kids do. I picked the subject I hated the least… other than music (but you already saw that coming, huh?). So, I chose English education.
While in college, I garnered teaching experience by working at a summer camp, but I didn’t get my first true teaching experience until I graduated college at age 23 and started working at a learning center that helped students with learning disabilities, most of whom had dyslexia. It wasn’t always the easiest job, given that you have to help a child understand in a way that their brain can process. But man, did it feel rewarding to have a kid finally get something.
That good feeling carried me to my next teaching job at a public high school where I taught English in a low-income neighborhood starting in 2014. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel it was all I wanted to do for the rest of my life. By then, the 2012 “end of the world” scare had already passed, and I’d since been thinking about my life and how I lived it. While nothing happened in 2012, I thought to myself, but what if a meteor actually hit tomorrow and I didn't get to do any of the things I wanted to? What if I never got to play music? While teaching had its highs, it also had its lows. I couldn’t veer from the strict curriculum map to teach the kids the stories and skills that I knew they needed. If the world ended, I didn’t want to say that all I’d done was put off music. I wanted to say I did what I wanted. And so, after the teaching tie came off at 3 PM, I started going to open mics at night to start rapping in earnest.
Getting the chance to show others my music was electrifying, and I loved the chance to network with other musicians. But my god, was it exhausting to juggle teaching and music. Open mics typically started around 10, and for someone like me just starting out, I wouldn’t get to go on until midnight or even as late as 1 in the morning! And after my set, I’d have to network. That put me coming home at about 3 AM every night just to have to wake up at 6 AM to begin my commute to work. Burning the candle at both ends, they say.
Though my heavy limbs drug every morning, and I was asleep on my feet most days, it was all worth it. The sleep-deprived days eventually led to connections, and to a following. In 2016, I had my first show with 125 people in attendance. Through it all, I was teaching in the day then coming to life at night through my music. I began to contemplate ways that I could combine my love for teaching with my love for music.
At Afro Punk Fest: Battle of the Bands, Brooklyn, New York, 2018.
By fate (and the networking I did) I met J. Howard, a man within the scene who liked my performances. He worked for an organization called Guitars Over Guns, an after-school program that helps kids learn music and develop genuine connections to keep them on good paths as they grow up. He told me that they were hiring mentors. Here was my chance to combine music and education. It fell right into my lap.
I could see it, me in front of a classroom of kids, teaching about the joys of music. The kids would be rapt with attention and taking notes. But there were a few problems with that fantasy.
The position was in Miami, a 25-minute drive. With it taking place right after school and with me teaching, there was no way I was going to be able to do both. After graduating, I told myself that I’d teach for at least five years so I could qualify for loan forgiveness. So, unfortunately, I had to pass on the offer. But I never stopped thinking about that opportunity—the dream to combine music and teaching.
I continued my teaching-music balancing act for a few years. Finally, I decided that since I’d saved up some money to keep me afloat, I could quit teaching while I figured out my next step. But I wasn’t floating for long before J. Howard approached me again with the same offer to become a mentor in early 2019. I’d been given another chance to do it. It felt like fate—that I was always meant to find Guitars Over Guns and do this.
Let me explain a little more about the program so you can get a better idea of what the organization does. Guitars Over Guns goes to a participating school to set up a two hour after-school program, onsite, usually that’s a lunchroom or classroom. After some chatting and snacking, we have a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) session. The SEL sessions give the kids ways to properly express themselves and understand life lessons. Not only is it important for them to learn music, the program also strives to help them build healthy relationships with their peers. From there, the kids break up into different classrooms to play and learn their respective instruments until the program ends for the day. I came on as a mentor to not only teach music production but also help out with SEL lessons.
And so, in September 2019 I officially came on as a mentor and immediately felt like I’d found my place. For the first time in my life, I had freedom. Guitars Over Guns understands that their artists need time to pursue their art, so I only had to work 8-12 hours a week. They would offset that little time by paying us mentors a higher hourly rate that’s just enough to pay the bills. With all that extra time, I didn’t need to run on three hours of sleep anymore. I finally had time to pursue music in full force.
Having that freedom helped me put together thoughtful and better lesson plans for the job. I didn’t have to follow a state-sanctioned lesson plan anymore either. Instead of having to manage 30+ kids at once, I was helping 5-10 kids, giving me a chance to give each of them more attention. I also didn’t only have to talk about music. In those SEL sessions, I could teach kids about financial literacy, relationship-building skills, or anything that I wish I’d been taught as a teenager.
Teaching music was much more emotionally fulfilling than English because it was something I had a deeper passion for, and I loved my students. I loved watching them grow and improve thanks to the program.
One in particular, let’s call her Sam, had blown me away since I started teaching her. I started her out with just the basics in music production, and she completely took off and has become incredible. I’ll never forget how proud I felt watching her go up on stage to show off her latest track to her fellow students. Like many of the other students, she was very shy about the quality of her music, and often included a disclaimer along the lines of, “I didn’t get as much time as I wanted on this so...” Yet, that day with that EDM track, she blew me and everyone in the room away. She was immediately swamped with support.
Seeing all of these kids—who were considered outcasts—find confidence in each other reaffirmed that I was meant to be doing this and my journey up until this point had been worth it. Not only was I getting to watch these kids grow as musicians, I and the other mentors were growing with them. It was a symbiotic relationship where everyone got to evolve.
Finding this opportunity changed the trajectory of my life. With all the extra free time, I was able to put more effort in every part of it, from teaching to music to my hobbies. Along with playing more shows, I also started honing my other skills like in graphic design. Now that I have the time and energy to do it, I hope to become a good enough designer to teach the kids at Guitars Over Guns about it someday. And with the way my life has been going since I became a mentor, I think anything is possible.
On stage, Kulture Miami Showcase by The Hippie Haven.
For years, I put off what I really wanted to do because I stuck to what was expected of me. Now that I’m doing what I love and combining all of my favorite things, I think anyone is capable of doing it too. You just have to stop making excuses and go for it. Even if you flop along the way, you have to keep trying. Thanks to the internet, you have the knowledge of any skill at your fingertips. Plan out your dreams, and go for them, all while taking people along with you as you go. The path you want is within reach if you allow yourself to take the branch.
This is the story of Marve "Starve Marve" Afolayan
Marve resides in South Florida where he works with Guitars Over Guns while pursuing his music career among other side projects. Coming from a Nigerian-American background, Marve didn’t pursue his true passion at first out of an obligation to meet expectations. However, as years passed, he began to want to pursue music in earnest because no one knows how much longer we have to live. In pursuing his music and networking, he came to learn about Guitars Over Guns, an organization that affords Marve the chance to pursue music completely while still making money teaching music. In the future, Marve hopes to release more music and design products (e.g. enamel pins, customized MP3 players, lighters, and some other adult stuff) that you can see at https://StarveMarve.com. In his free time, Marve watches anime, Netflix, or mostly works on his small businesses: Graphic / Web Design, Artist merchandising with his product, Tiny Tapes. In the near future, Marve hopes to teach graphic design to his students at Guitars Over Guns once he’s mastered it.
Starve Marve at Arts Garage, Delray Beach, Florida, 2015.
Our Life Logs® partnering with:
Starve Marve is featured on the first-ever Guitars Over Guns album “The Rain May Be Pouring” which is comprised of original music from the mentors, students, and alumni of the organization. The album defines the feeling and impact of 2020 in the
You can listen to Starve Marve's music here.
This story first touched our hearts on May 18, 2021.
Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker