Cree artist, K.A.S.P. (Keeping Alive Stories for the People), also known as Paul Sawan, is a motivational speaker, facilitator, and multi-award-winning Indigenous hip-hop artist, based in Kamloops B.C.
On Oct. 24, he won the International Indigenous Arts and Fashion Awards’, entertainer of the year.
“To be nominated for an international award, entertainer of the year, during this COVID time, I was honestly honoured,” Sawan says.
In addition to a successful 22-year music career in hip-hop, Sawan has been a motivational speaker for the past 18 years and works as an Aboriginal education worker at Valleyview Secondary School in Kamloops, B.C.
“Everything I do is for the youth and helping Indigenous youth in care or on the streets, that they will get through this, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” he says.
Sawan tours the world visiting Indigenous communities, performing and hosting motivational workshops to empower youth through stories of his own experiences and rough childhood.
Finding hope from nothing
Sawan is from Driftpile, Alta., and was born on Halloween.
His grandparents called him Casper growing up because he was considered a light-skinned Cree, he explains.
“I wanted my name to have meaning while I was becoming a motivational speaker and emceeing at the time, Casper manifested into K.A.S.P (Keeping Alive Stories for the People),” he explains.
Growing up, Sawan’s father suffered from heroin addiction. As a result, Sawan spent his childhood in the child welfare system throughout east Vancouver.
“Growing up with an addicted parent is extremely difficult,” he says.
When he was 18 he moved to the Okanagan where he says he found his real home.
“I was adopted by PIB [Penticton Indian Band], so all my teachings come from the Okanagan.”
Sawan encourages youth to learn about themselves as Indigenous people. He explains once you learn about the stories and the medicines, and become attuned with the things around you — you will always know where you come from.
“Once you learn your culture, no one could take that away from you. Music helped me find my adopted culture, the Okanagan Nation,” he says.
Sawan now resides in Kamloops, B.C., where he does cultural safety training and commits his work to help Indigenous youth get through difficult times in school or within their home life.
“When I’m helping people, it helps me with my healing journey, being 11 years clean and sober, this is why I do the work I do,” Sawan explains.
“My main purpose is empowering and helping to inspire people from my own experiences.”
Music is healing
Sawan discovered hip-hop when he was in grade four.
“I loved it,” he says. “I never knew I could share my story with this music and have people listen to it and then perform across the world.”
He used music as a way to escape reality growing up. It helped him to look at the positive things in life.
“I educate people on the culture of hip-hop and I always talk about how positive it is when you use it in a good way. Music can be healing,” he says.
Sawan categorizes his music as experimental and inspirational. He considers himself a storyteller as he openly talks about his traumatic life experiences through his music and motivational speeches.
“Hip-hop music brought me back to my tradition, to my culture and this whole life journey starting from music, and I believe it’s going to end with music.”
He has worked alongside hip-hop legends: The Game, Lloyd Banks, Obie Trice, Maestro, Tone Loc, Choclair, Snow, Moka Only, Young Buck, Swollen Members, and SweatShop Union. Sawan has also collaborated with DMC of the legendary RUN DMC, Chino XL, Choclair, Moka Only and Northern Cree.
“Hip-hop has been good to me; it brought me all over,” he says, “To perform with artists who I looked up to and who I listened to, you know, it was awesome.”
Winning this year’s International Indigenous Arts & Fashion award, Entertainer of the Year, was an honour and shock to Sawan.
“I’m not fashioned by any means. I’m not anything like that; I don’t do that,” he says, “My entertainment is not even entertainment; it’s helping people.”
Sawan explained upon winning; he dedicated this award to all Indigenous youth who are in the child welfare system and to all the Indigenous youth who are on the streets.
“I built my career around Indigenous youth, so this award is and will be for them.”