Music mentorship programme helps young Auckland artist find her voice again

Auckland-based RnB artist Iris Guevarra - better known as Iris G - wrote one of her first songs as a 12-year-old, under threat of a school detention. 

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The music production and recording studio mentors rangatahi who may be in difficult situations. Source: Breakfast

She entered a school talent quest in Year 8 and ended up winning. The next day, she was called to her principal’s office over the school intercom. There, she was given an ultimatum. 

“He says, if you don’t write a song about a balloon, I’m gonna put you in detention. I was such a goody-good. So, that night, I wrote a song called Flying High,” the 22-year-old told Breakfast. She said the song was a metaphor for “letting go of my childhood”. 

Success followed. In 2017, she won first place at the Smokefreerockquest’s solo/duo category. 

Just a few months later, however, she said she was sexually assaulted. 

“My self-worth went down the drain,” Guevarra said. She said the experience was traumatising, causing her to lose her voice. 

She credits Crescendo and its lead music mentor David Atai, from Nesian Mystik, in helping her find her voice again. 

“I know how it feels to be a woman that’s just seen as an object, I feel like it’s really important for other young women to see we don’t have to be victims all the time,” Guevarra said. 

“We can choose to be survivors and warriors and fighters. We can be whatever we want to be.”

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The 22-year-old Auckland artist treated Breakfast to an exclusive performance of her unreleased song. Source: Breakfast

Crescendo, located in the Auckland suburb of Avondale, isn’t a typical music production and recording studio. All the profit from the social enterprise’s work goes into Crescendo Te Urunga, its mentoring programme, which draws in young people who may be in difficult situations. 

Crescendo Te Urunga teaches rangatahi music production and radio, and also provides mentoring. 

Mentor Atai said he was exceptionally proud of Guevarra, who graduated from the programme. 

“We can only do so much on our end. It also takes a lot of work on Iris’ end as well. To see her achieve that side of things, that’s where some of the pride kicks in,” he said. 

Atai joined Crescendo early on, having done a bit of mentoring in the past. 

“I genuinely have a passion for just music and helping artists find their feet and watching them succeed.” 

Marcus Powell, CEO and founder of Crescendo Trust, said he developed the programme because he found he had a passion for working with young people. Since it was established in 2012, Crescendo Te Urunga has worked with more than 2300 young people. 

Powell, of Te Āti Awa, Ngāpuhi descent, said he drew from his own experiences having been adopted by a Fijiian family, who taught him unconditional love. 

After finding success with his band Blindspott, he ended up mentoring young people in schools.

“I found that my skillsets and just time and love was able to shift a person’s self-worth and their belief patterns. That’s what gave me the drive to go down the youth development path,” Powell said.