An island breeze can calm any frenetic energy. Like the energy that surges through New York City streets in every step and groove. Or the energy one gives as they’re dancing on a subway platform for cash. That same breeze brought Wendell Bullen, or King Kayak, from his island, Carriacou, in Grenada to NYC. It was his island life that led him to music, dance, and a career he fights for everyday that has allowed him to perform for Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, and the Prince of England. While he dances and teaches night and day from coast to coast, he still dreams of his island, the place that grounds him and built him up.
Carriacou is the isle of reefs with crystal blue water and vibrant sea life never too far. There are immigrants from Denmark, France, Spain and more and are essential to the culture of the island. With only about 10,000 people, Wendell knew mostly everyone growing up — easy to make a name for himself winning talent shows for singing and dancing. “When they had a talent show, I was that guy that was shy when you meet me but then once I hit that stage, it would just get crazy.” Dancehall music started in Jamaica as a movement within the lower socioeconomic class, occupying space and expressing themselves to tell stories; while soca, meaning soul of calypso, was from Trinidad & Tobago — both of these styles defining the Caribbean sound. Growing up, Wendell would compete in Dancehall King competitions around the island and win. This journey gave him his first half of his stage name, King Kayak, while the other half is simply the nickname people from Carriacou have. “If you’re wondering where someone’s from you say, ‘youse a kayak?’ So the name started off with just an Instagram thing, honestly, and it just became who I am now. I just wanted to keep that connection with home.”
When Wendell lived in Carriacou, he was a quintessential island boy. “Almost every day after school, I would go to the playground or the playing field to play soccer. Over there, they’re very heavy on soccer and track. We also had a port that they would use for all the boats coming in and sometimes we’d just go fishing all day. We’d go there with no bait and catch a fish and then use that fish for the day and then fish all day, catch a whole bunch, then go back home.” When he wasn’t hanging out with his friends, he was working with his dad with the various side businesses he had. “My dad had a bottling service, so we’d have to go wash the bottles, apply the seals, put them in boxes, tape them up and ship them out. My dad also had a bakery so I’d go with him and see how he sells bread to the neighborhood. We would peel a bag of potatoes by hand and put it in a manual potato chipper and do that all night, then season a bunch of chicken and bag it up and bring it down to our little fast food joint.” But Wendell’s first paycheck came from bagging at the grocery store and soon after that, he was panhandling on the NYC streets. “I used to dance on the train, the platform, the parks. Sometimes you just have a bad day where you don’t make any money because there’s so many people that do it. So, I was just in it for the experience.”
Experience requires patience and dedication and a drive to meet a goal. Moving to New York at 14, Wendell had to learn a fast-paced lifestyle and stay out of trouble, as his principal was also from Grenada and “he knows how we grew up back home so he’s not going to cut me any slack.” When he graduated high school, his friend introduced him to a free dance program at The Door on Broome Street in SoHo. The director, Anthony Rodriguez gave him a dancing home for two years straight, five days a week learning different styles of dance. “I’ve never had the opportunity to actually learn dance in a studio. So I just took full advantage and I was there until I ended up becoming one of the instructors in the program. I was fully committed because it was something that I loved and eventually they sent me out to auditions.” But his first audition happened to be for internationally acclaimed, 4-time Grammy Award winning artist Missy Elliott. “When I did it, I choked because I was just so starstruck. You know, coming out of the Caribbean and being face to face with Missy Elliott. It was just crazy, So after that happened, I told myself, okay don’t let that happen again.”
Since then, Wendell has worked tirelessly to make a name for himself getting involved in various creatives projects. After winning some hometown talent shows in singing as well, he was always interested in pursuing the art form that dance revolved around: music. “I never had resources. I didn’t know anything about going to the studio and recording. But over time, I started traveling as a dancer/choreographer (in Russia, Taiwan, Europe) and invested in a USB mic so everywhere I’d go, I’d record little demos.” When COVID-19 hit, the arts and gig community was hit particularly hard. While he used to teach everyone from preschoolers and high schoolers to studios and master classes, he had to find a way to keep it going. He started watching Youtube videos and teaching himself how to engineer, which led to his first music video, Take My Time With You, where he was the choreographer and creative director for a steamy, vibrant, and catchy production. Today, he has hundreds of songs coming down the pipeline and ready to release. “2021 is about dropping music and content.”
Wendell sees his future full of travel, music, and dance. He hopes to keep traveling, open his own academy catered towards the younger generation and work towards the goal of financial freedom. Having spent much of his professional career working with children, he urges them to not waste their time and to never give up on dreams; for if he choked after his first audition and still kept fighting to pursue his, he knows anyone can if they don’t give up on themselves. “I want to continue inspiring others. I want them to see me as a motivation. It’s not just meeting people, you’ve got to have that work ethic too. And also just experiencing happiness with the people I love. Just working and growing with the people I love.”
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