Looking up at the night sky, he could still feel the 180 kilometres per hour his motorcycle had travelled a few short hours ago.The rush of driving into an endless horizon was unforgettable.
As he glanced over at his now damaged bike, he remembered how quickly everything came to a grinding halt. He remembered the feeling of being thrown through the air, striking the hard, salty surface. All of the sprockets tore off in the accident and the clutch was gone — there wasn’t much left of his beloved bike.
It was a right of passage into independence and understanding …and the ability to overcome – that’s how that trip changed me.
At first, hitting the soft spot in the salt that caused his accident hadn’t seemed so awful. Sure his difficult dismount probably rivaled that of most Olympic gymnasts, but sometimes an accident makes an adventure.
The night sky, however, changed everything. The beauty of the sunset and the majestic storm clouds now gone, he realized that nobody knew he was planning to drive across Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s salt flats. No one was expecting him to return to a hotel room, or a gas station or a rest stop. Nobody would search for him if he wasn’t back by a given time.
Marty Pawlina found himself deep in prayer. “I feel like I had a really good conversation with myself and my Maker and it was: I don’t want to live for a cubicle and a keyboard at home. I’m going to finally live for something. It’s going to be what matters most to me: my family, my friends and my music.”
That was 2010, the year that 24-year-old Pawlina planned a one-week trip to Peru to climb Mount Machu Picchu. But when sudden flooding ravaged the region, he found himself in South America with no definite plans. Spontaneous by nature, it took mere moments for Pawlina to give up his promising career in e-commerce, hop on a motorcycle and ride across the continent for six months. If he was frugal, his savings would allow for an extended adventure.
After a sudden accident, Pawlina found himself with an entirely new outlook on life. Rather than return home to his career, he would pursue one of his greatest passions: music.
While most aspiring singer/songwriters long for a life of fame and fortune, Pawlina’s outlook is different and has not gone unnoticed by the local music community he tirelessly supports through fundraising. His experience in South America left him with a different and refreshing musical goal: to inspire change through music.
THE MUSICIAN BEHIND THE MELODIES
“Many times, I’ve experienced people thinking that I’m very open and very overconfident. I’m actually much more introverted,” says Pawlina. It’s an easy misconception to make, particularly if you’ve seen Pawlina on stage. At 27, the 6 ‘4” tall singer with dark brown hair, green eyes and a relaxed, comfortable style certainly fulfills his label as the “friendly giant,” given to him by Jacky Tang in local blog, Edm Magazine.
Pawlina was born and raised in Edmonton with his older sister, and his parents, Polish immigrants, instilled deep family values in their son. With stories of motorcycle trips and family vacations in theChevy fun craft minivan, Pawlina’s love for home comes through in every conversation. Not surprisingly, his love for music began there as well, from piano time with his mother, a talented pianist, to playing saxophone in junior high, music was always part of Pawlina’s life.
“When he was maybe four years old we bought him a Fisher Price guitar,” says his mother, Iwona Pawlina. “It was blue and yellow and I think it played some tunes. Who knows? Maybe the gift sparked a greater interest in music. He looked good with the guitar.” Although he didn’t learn guitar until high school and vocals until post-secondary, Pawlina’s current music style – modern folk – certainly suggests the Fisher Price instrument was influential.
As high school graduation passed, Pawlina continued to play music, though his post-secondary education took him on a different career path. After starting a digital arts program at MacEwan University, and subsequent arts and computer programs at the Vancouver Art Institute and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Pawlina planned to work in digital media, ecommerce and marketing. But his working life saw him try many different roles first, including tree planter, sailing coach and oil-rig worker.
Like many young graduates, Pawlina put off working life. He wanted to explore the world and let his hobbies of mountaineering, hiking and sailing direct his journey. A trip to Peru seemed like the perfect opportunity.
BREAKING DOWN AND BREAKING OUT
Ready to embark on his journey across the salt flats, Pawlina snaps a photo with his beloved motorcycle. (Source: Marty Pawlina, 2010).
“I was travelling solo and I knew the risks involved with that, and for some reason it didn’t cross my mind that anything could happen in a place like that,” says Pawlina of his decision to take his motorcycle across the salt flats.
The hard salt, like concrete, meant he could drive as fast as he wanted. At just over 3,600 metres above sea level, and an area of 11,000 square kilometres (Uyuni Salt Flat, Brittanica Academic Edition, 2013) no one would pull him over here. He left early in the morning to beat the tourist rush. The feeling of the cold wind while he rode was exhilarating.
What Pawlina didn’t know was that geysers pushed water above the salt. As beautiful as the mirrored horizon appeared, the salty water left his radiator caked and broken, and created the soft spots in the sand that would cause his accident. Crossing the flats would not be easy.
After hours of repeatedly push starting his bike, Pawlina reached a small town, where he purchased water, fuel and food. He wasn’t ready to give up yet. With directions from a local man, he would make it to his revised destination: a small island in the flats where cacti grow. Pawlina put his motorcycle in full throttle, and returned to his drive, determined to arrive by mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, his directions were wrong.
Just as navigating the salt flats presented challenges, so did understanding and finding a place in the Canadian music industry. A difficult industry to break into, Pawlina once again found himself in a vast place, with people offering many different directions. The illusions and difficulties Pawlina faced as he crossed the Bolivian salt flats were not unlike those he faced as he worked toward recording an album.
Although Canada’s music market was ranked seventh in the world in 2012 by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Licensing Digital Music in Canada, Music Canada, 2012), the average salary of a musician is low - in Alberta slightly more than $12,000. (Wage Info, Alberta Wage & Salary Survey, Government of Alberta, 2011). Like many others, Pawlina realized he would need additional employment to pursue his music career. Quoted a minimum of $10,000 to record an album, a cost that would triple to achieve international exposure, he needed cash flow. So, he took on freelance work in e-commerce and found his current full time employment in marketing and advertising for a local homebuilder. Music as a full-time career was tougher than he first anticipated – long days and nights became the norm.
But when he was first, and sometimes frequently, met with rejection, it became difficult for Pawlina to appreciate his time investment.
His philosophy: believe in your own greatness or no one will, and when it seems easier to imitate others, stay true to yourself. It’s worthwhile in the end.
Pressing forward in this tough industry, Pawlina sees his difficult time in Bolivia as a learning experience; “It was a right of passage into independence and understanding and the ability to overcome – that’s how that trip changed me.”
LUCK NOT LOST
“I just happened to be so lucky that the place where I finally was content with giving up was a place where buses were coming across the desert,” says Pawlina.
Due to the hard salt, tire tracks weren’t visible, and after two days of walking across the flats, this seemed as good a place as any to stop.
For two hot days, Pawlina walked, the soft spots in the salt that had caused his accident appearing and disappearing every few steps. The flats were beginning to look like a conveyor belt and it felt like he hadn’t moved an inch – everything looked the same. Though he suspected he could survive longer than two days without water, he felt exhausted, lost and helpless.
Suddenly a speck appeared in the distance, a bus. As it approached, Pawlina could make out a bumper sticker, one he will never forget: Christ guards us all. Slowing down, the tour bus let him on. He remembers the passengers and driver took good care of him.
“They charged me half the price, actually, for the bus route, because technically they picked me up halfway through the desert,” says Pawlina, laughing. “It was so funny given how bad I must have looked.”
The luck of encountering the bus and his return to safety was not lost on Pawlina. The help he received that day changed him – he wanted to help others and inspire change himself. His music seemed the perfect place to start. “I like to think that we can approach our lives in the same way [as song writing], that it’s never too late to rewrite a moment. Maybe something that we experienced that was difficult, we can rewrite that into something that was positive,” says Pawlina.
For Pawlina, music is more than fame and fortune. Although his goal includes international radio play, using his music to better his community and the lives of those around him is important. Pawlina has played several hundred shows since his open mics as a young adult, but now chooses his gigs carefully – playing for charity is a top priority.
For the past three years, Pawlina has played at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre to raise money for theStollery Children’s Hospital Foundation in Edmonton. World Vision is another charity he supports, raising funds at shows when he can.
In October 2012, Pawlina started, to his knowledge, Edmonton’s first Friday night open mic at local coffee house and wine bar, Roast. A portion of all beverages sold at the shows is donated to the Keiran Tate Memorial Fund.