New London — Andrew “Suave-Ski” Camacho carries two boxes of flavorful pizza through the doors and into ArtFlame’s quaint studio in an artist-filled downtown corner of the city.
Three aspiring artists are at State Street Studio: 19-year-old Krystalya “K.Rose” Arroyo-Casey, 17-year-old Demarcus “Markeyy” Green, and Camacho’s son, 9-year-old Cayden “King Cay”. Camacho. All three have specialized in different music genres – R&B, rap and electronic dance music – but found a home for themselves and their ambitions here and bonded through a shared love of music.
Camacho is a hip hop artist whose fame and recognition is growing; He was recently named to Connecticut Magazine’s “40 Under 40” list of the state’s most promising young people. He founded the non-profit ArtFlame Music Academy in 2021 to offer a crash course program for youth with a passion for music and a desire to capitalize on it. His work, he said, was inspired by his son – Andrew Camacho realized the young musician could make royalties from his music when the boy was just 8 years old.
ArtFlame Academy is free and is largely sponsored by the Garde Arts Center in New London. The main goal is to help aspiring artists produce music while learning the ins and outs of an industry known for taking advantage of inexperienced artists. ArtFlame also helps artists with legal publishing and mentoring them in audio production, design and other multimedia skills, said Andrew Camacho.
The program has seven students working on a collaborative album but aiming for a much larger class for the next session; Visit artflame.org for more information.
It only seemed appropriate to locate ArtFlame in New London, a city known for welcoming musical artists. This organization is just one example of the haven that New London has created for musicians and music lovers alike, and demonstrates music’s ability to bring people together across a wide spectrum of musical genres.
“New London really attracts a diverse group of people,” said Richard L. Martin, a musician and owner of The Telegraph vinyl and music store at 19 Golden St. downtown. He chairs the city’s Cultural District Commission, a body on which Andrew Camacho also serves. “It’s a uniquely diverse place in a not-so-diverse region. I get people from all over New England and New York (to his store) and I get a lot of feedback about how wonderful our little town is.”
“Music is a great unifier,” he continued. “You don’t have to be of one ethnicity or another to listen to music. It’s a way of bridging gaps between us.”
Mayor Michael Passero said he believes the city has such an impact on the region’s music scene because it’s an urban, cultural enclave.
“Why have artists always been drawn to New London?” asked Passero. “Probably because of the nature of eastern Connecticut. It’s so rural and we don’t have that urban culture. You’d have to drive an hour either way,” he said, referring to the larger but more distant cities of New Haven and Providence, which also have a diverse music scene.
“New London is unique (with an) urban lifestyle and quality,” said Passero. “When you’ve picked a neighborhood out of Brooklyn or Manhattan and then (placed) it in this otherwise rural and suburban area, then New London is (what is). It is this rough and gloomy city center that feeds the whole region. It’s a place that attracts talented and artistic people to share with one another.”
And New London, dubbed ‘the small but mighty City of the Sound’ by The Telegraph’s website, telegraphnl.com, seems to shine in this regard.
Daphne Parker Powell, a pop and folk singer-songwriter who splits her time between New London and New Orleans and produces captivatingly soulful music about her emotions and life experiences, believes the city is a hidden gem for new artists exploring their creative… Process in the city can thrive chaos and noise of the urban scene.
“I came to the city in 2002 and started really getting involved in the art scene in 2004,” she said. “It was such a beautiful moment in the rise of what would become a truly vibrant decade in New London. Everyone just wanted to play, try different instruments and styles and collaborate with everyone else. It was so easy to dive into because the possibilities seemed endless.”
New London musicians are also often determined to give back by helping other music artists.
“I lost a bandmate to an overdose in 2008,” Powell said. “It was an accident and he was struggling so badly with a chronic illness that was at times excruciatingly painful. We all feared it, and one day we got the call you never want to get. I remember meeting up at a local watering hole in New London where all his friends would naturally come in to hug, tell stories and cry together.”
But they also more than comforted each other. They found a concrete way to give some hope to others they didn’t even know. They were planning a bursary in his name – Phil Agins, best known as the lead guitarist for the band The Royale Brothers but who frequently played with other musicians in the area – to support aspiring artists and their music school studies, she said.
“We wanted his music, his gift to all of us, to continue to educate people we haven’t met,” she said. “Just as he raised us when we were alive.”
“We are all here to make music”
ArtFlame’s young students hope that New London’s welcoming atmosphere for musicians will help them to establish themselves in the field.
“I usually do R&B, very vintage 90’s beats, that’s my thing,” K.Rose said, laughing. She said she started singing as a child, appearing on the New London Talent Show, but a few years ago her musical energy was temporarily drained when her grandmother died.
“I really wanted to get back into it because she loved it when I made music and I think it’s a good way to try and keep her memory alive,” K.Rose said in a recent interview.
Sitting in the studio with Andrew Camacho and K.Rose, there was an intense sense of family connection. While Camacho served the pizzas, K.Rose and Markeyy sat in studio chairs and freestyled each other.
Although both hail from New London, Markeyy was a new connection for K.Rose. And although he specializes in a different style of music, rap, they bonded.
“I think it’s great. We’re all figuring out how to get together to do one thing and one album. Any different style will be fine,” said K.Rose. “We’re all here to make music . It’s something we’re all connected about. But at the same time, we’re also hanging out outside making music.”
Markeyy, a varsity wrestler at New London High School when he’s not in the studio, said he’s found a home at ArtFlame, although he had never heard of the studio when his aunt signed him up to go .
“Suave and Pete are like the two dads,” Markeyy said, referring to Andrew Comacho and Pete Helms, the artistic manager who works to introduce students to the business end of the music industry. “We are like a whole family. We sometimes go out to eat together. We have fun sessions and make unwritten music out of our heads.”
During a recent studio session, K.Rose performed while Andrew Camacho, Markeyy and King Cay accompanied, supported and encouraged her.
“You cruise, that’s what you were made for,” Andrew Camacho tells K.Rose as she pulls off a particularly impressive run.
Markeyy cheered them on while King Cay beatboxed to their track.
“I just want to thank Suave-Ski and Pete and ArtFlame for giving me this opportunity to bring out what I’ve been holding on to for years,” Markeyy said. “And helping me put out music that could help people in the future.”
“I’ve noticed that a lot of these students who didn’t know each other become very close,” said Andrew Camacho. “They start to be like family and help each other. Talking about music, start coaching each other. It’s starting to turn into a family. Music does that. It is the language of the soul.”