Mystro” talked about his feelings about Michael’s passing and how sad he was that Michael didn’t have the chance to see his new project for kids:
Valmai: Mengesha, you founded your company School Time Hip-Hop Productions right around 2009. Can you tell us something about that?
Mengesha: Well, that time was hard for me. With that, those are my original compositions. I understand Hip-Hop; I like Hip-Hop, and so I mixed Hip-Hop and education together. Sort of likeSchoolhouse Rock. I’m also a big fan of Schoolhouse Rock from the seventies TV show. I grew up on that, so I wanted to incorporate that style with Hip-Hop and have it still be educational for kids.
When Michael passed I had to put it on the back-burner, and only because I just needed time to breathe. I was so excited about putting this out for kids. I was definitely in talks with getting this to Michael Jackson for him to give me the thumbs-up, not necessarily an endorsement, I just wanted him to see this, you know. It’s for kids, it’s educational and when he passed, it was so difficult for me to continue at that point. I had lost people in my personal family too, so I was really not in a good place, but now I’m a lot stronger.
I have been talking to the School Districts to get this out. I’m back trying to make this happen and I’m sure it’s going to take off. I’m really excited about it, and we’ve been getting wonderful revues in just our demo alone. So, I’m still going to push forward with that.
Valmai: I think it’s a wonderful idea.
Mengesha: I really wanted Michael to hear it and see it. As I was recording it, all I could think was that Michael was going to love this. It’s Hip-Hop, it’s kids, it’s clean, it’s Rap and it’s still danceable for the kids, and it’s not too commercial. I wanted it to be Jay Z meets Disney, you know? I knew Michael would have loved it.
He continues talking about his performance at the 30th Anniversary in 2001:
Valmai: Oh, I think it would be something he would definitely approve of. You performed for Michael at his 30th Anniversary, in 2001. What was that experience like for you?
Mengesha: The 30th Anniversary was the last time I saw Michael in person. That really was an incredible night. I had a chance to play and what I did in the video, Michael Jacksonology: Piano Tribute, is the same thing I did in front of Michael at the anniversary; right there with James Ingram standing over me, and quite a few people were impressed with my playing. I was able to play his songs as a medley, and he kept looking at me and giving me the thumbs-up. That was the last time I would see Michael so at least I had a chance to play for him. I can take that and just run with that, you know?
Valmai: At that performance you also got a chance to meet and speak with him on-on-one didn’t you?
Mengesha: Well, yes. I had been friends with some of the family members, and in 2009, after Michael’s passing, I had lunch with Jermaine Jr. and also Berry Gordy’s grandson. We were talking about some things; we were talking about Hip-Hop, we were talking about my piano performance that I was getting ready to do, the Michael Jacksonology: Piano Tribute, so I do have their backing and they know I’m doing this. I just want to keep his music alive, that’s the main thing, and in a different way from most people wanting to impersonate Michael, and that’s still wonderful too, but I really want to showcase something different. Nobody really listens to his songwriting capability, you know, the “Earth Song!”
I had a contest on my website for all those who are fans of Michael Jackson and of my website. I told them to pick a song for me to play. The song that gets the most hits; the song you think is the best I will perform it. It was a toss-up between “Earth Song” and “Speechless.” But “Earth Song” won out. So that’s why I performed “Earth Song” last on the video. It’s a very, very difficult song to play. Out of everything I played in that video, “Earth Song” was the toughest because it’s simple, but it’s a detailed song; everything has got to be right in place.
Valmai: And Michael was a perfectionist too, so he would want it played exactly the way he wrote it.
Mengesha: Exactly. Then he narrated the story on how he met Michael, which is very interesting because it reveals MJ’s responsible behaviour towards children and how he behaved like a concerned parent. I want to share a story with you on how I first met Michael Jackson, and this is something so profound to me.
I told you the last time I saw Michael, but the very first time I saw him I was about thirteen. And I hate to tell the truth, but…well I’ll say it like this, I left school early; I ditched. I left school early and went to Hollywood. They have these guys on street corners who sell these maps to the Star’s homes. So I bought one because I was determined to find out where Michael lived. I was such a fan, and I had to know. I looked on the map and I saw 4641 Hayvenhurst Drive, so I asked the bus driver how to get to Hayvenhurst. He said, “Hayvenhurst is way out in Encino, that’s a two hour ride.” So I said okay, I guess I ought to do it.
So I get on the bus; it’s a two hour ride all the way to Encino. I go down the street and see this large gate. Finally I found 4641, and I thought this is it? I was expecting Neverland stuff. But it’s a nice big house and I’m sitting there doing my homework thinking, I don’t see Michael Jackson and it’s been thirty minutes…finally the gate opens. A black Mercedes Benz drives out the gate and the window rolls down, and it’s Michael. I’m by myself; this is a regular day and he looks at me and says, “Hey, why aren’t you in school?” And I thought oh no, that’s the worst thing he could say to me. I mean this is like ten o’clock in the morning on a school day, and I’m a 13 year-old!
Anyway, I said, “Well, I wanted to meet you. That’s why I’m here.” And he said, “Well don’t ditch. Don’t ditch school; that’s not a good thing, but I got something for you. If you stay in school and do your work, and do all good things; if you meet me this Saturday at Balboa Park, I’m going to give you an autograph. I’m not going to give it you now. I’m going to give it to you Saturday, so meet me there. My brothers will be there because we play baseball every Saturday.” So I said, “Where is Balboa Park?” And he said, “Its right around the corner.”
So Saturday came along. I got up early, and went all the way back down and found Balboa Park. Sure enough, the Jackson’s were warming up. I saw Jackie, Tito; all of them were there, and the 3T’s were little babies and Marlon Jr was a little baby. I saw this guy on the other side; on the opposite team’s side with a hat and sunglasses waving at me. It was Michael. He was in disguise with a moustache and a hat on. So I walked up to him and he said, “Don’t tell anybody I’m here. My brothers are going to give you the jacket from the Victory Tour, and we’re going to give you the program.” So I asked for an extra one for my mother, and he said, “Okay, we’ll give you two.”
Finally, after the game was over, Jackie and Marlon came up to me and gave me the Victory Tour book. They signed it and Michael signed it too, and then I got the Victory jacket.
That was the first time I met Michael Jackson, and when I went back to school nobody believed me! I’m saying I met Michael Jackson and mind you, this is 1984-’85; this is the height of his career. I told my teacher and he said no way! I told him I was serious, that Michael lived in Hayvenhurst, I went to a baseball game, and they were like, “Yeah right!” So eventually I started taking pictures at some of the baseball games.
The night of the 30th Anniversary, I wondered in my mind if Michael knew I was the same little kid that was in front of his house doing his homework, who is now a professional musician. And I didn’t have a chance to tell him that. There was so much going on that night; he was very busy and his table was full, so I didn’t get a chance to have a one-on-one with him.
Valmai: That story is amazing.
Mengesha: Yes, it’s part of me forever.
Valmai: What was your impression of Michael?
Mengesha: He was very out-spoken; he was very stern because I was a 13 year-old sitting outside his house instead of being in school, so he wasn’t soft-spoken to me. He was very direct, and more concerned about me being outside of his house instead of in school. He was like a concerned parent.
I’ve seen him on other occasions too, but one-on-one, I don’t think Michael was as shy; I think he was more business savvy than people see. His public persona is; of course he’s a nice guy and he’s very soft-spoken and wonderful, but I believe when it comes to something serious, Michael Jackson had no problem telling you exactly what he meant. Now, he was nice enough to invite me to his baseball game, but he didn’t have to do that. He could have called the police and said this kid is in front of my house; he needs to go to school. But he told me I could come to his house and he would give me an autograph, just not on school days, and I will never forget that. He could have done a whole bunch of things, I mean that’s trespassing, well not necessarily trespassing, but loitering.
He gave me an opportunity to go to those baseball games, and I used to go every weekend after that. I became very comfortable and I remember seeing Paula Abdul there; Janet Jackson was there all the time. She was no big deal then; I mean she used to just walk out the house. This was in the ‘80’s before she became a star. It was so much fun during the ‘80’s, to be that kind of a fan where we could literally go to Michael’s house and just interact with his world.
I remember one Saturday; normally when Michael comes in, he calls on his car phone from down the street and tells the guards to open the gate. This is like 5 minutes before he actually pulls in. This particular day, the gate was moving but it wouldn’t open. And all the fans that were standing there, we knew that Michael was on his way.
So Michael pulled in and the gate wouldn’t open, so all the fans are screaming and wanting autographs. Michael gets out of the car and says, “Don’t do this at home,” and walks around the side of the gate and hopped the fence. Everybody cracked up. It was so hilarious because we expected him to wait in the car. Finally, the security guard pulled the gate open and drove the car in. That was just a moment that I would see from just hanging around the house.
I remember when he did Captain EO. I was there that day he went to Disney. He was in the car with Bill Bray. Bill Bray was driving, and Michael waved and said stop the car. So, I was there with a friend and we got up and walked to the car. Michael said, “I’m doing a movie. You got to check it out. It’s called Captain EO. It’s for Disney. Just remember I told you its Captain EO.” And sure enough, I finally saw Captain EO, which is one of my favorites. The day that it opened up, I think was 16 or 17, my school’s Drill Team was opening the Premiere day. So we got to see it ahead of everybody. I got to see it before the public got to see it. I mean out of all the high schools in Los Angeles, my school was picked to perform at the opening, and I was there.
So many symbolic things are wrapped in my entire life from 5 years-old, all the way to being a 40 year-old man, which is centered around Michael. He has been a part of life since childhood; since before I knew music and when he passed, I had people who I hadn’t spoke to since Elementary School call my mother to pay their condolences to me. I had a teacher who remembered me trying to learn “Billie Jean” on the piano, and who found my mother’s number and called to say how sorry they felt for Mengesha because they remembered that when I was 14, all I talked about was Michael Jackson.
So, he has been like a family member more than a Pop superstar. I even got into fights at school over him. I have been expelled from school from having a fight over Michael Jackson because people were saying mean things about him. I used wear Michael’s clothes, like the “Beat It” jacket and glitter socks, and I would get in fights because people would say he was weird. They would take me in the office, and tell me I could no longer wear Michael Jackson paraphernalia anymore because it was causing too much trouble. So Michael was like a family member, like an Uncle, and I was more than just a fan.
That’s how someone –out of the many- that met Michael Jackson when they were minors- talk about him. With love and respect.
Next, “Mystro” talks about Michael’s legacy:
Valmai: What do you see as Michael’s greatest legacy and how does that inspire you as a musician and a person every day?
Mengesha: Just being innovated I think. He was not afraid to step out of the box as an entertainer and a musician, and he was a perfectionist. When it’s 100% right, it’s still not right for him. Michael was a Virgo and they are very cerebral; very mental.
The worst thing about perfection, and I understand it because of him, is that you are looking for perfection when there is none; when you don’t need it. Sometimes you overly try to perfect something when you should just leave it the way it is. For example, I don’t believe Michael would have wanted us to see This Is It, but there was perfection even in that. We got to see him make mistakes, we got to see him correct people; all of these things Michael would never have wanted us to see. Why? Because he is a perfectionist!
So perfection is the thing I see with Michael Jackson. Every little thing has to be where it needs to be. I mean, Michael reminds me of a Broadway musical. Everybody moves as one, everything is in line. All the musicians play a certain way, all of the dancer’s dance a certain way, the lighting has to be correct, the staging, the effects; everything has to be on cue. And that’s what Michael is to me; the epitome of a perfectionist. We don’t get to see that often; once in a lifetime.
Michael was a gift; he was not a mistake but a gift, for everybody. There are people that don’t really like him; it took for his death for them to understand how great he was as a musician and entertainer. Michael stood above all other music. I mean, you get 8 Grammy’s for one album, that’s unheard of. He’s in the Guinness Book of Records as being the greatest entertainer that ever lived! He raised the bar so high that we’ll never see that again in our lifetime. We’ll see great entertainers mind you, but not like Michael Jackson.
Valmai: I think quite a few people agree with you on that one.
Mengesha: Right, right. It’s a sad thing, but a good thing. It’s a good thing that he left a legacy so high; he’s like the eighth wonder of the world.
What I try to do in my piano performance is push the limit of a piano player doing Michael Jackson’s music. I’ve seen a lot of people play online that play wonderfully, and they’ve done wonderful tributes to Michael, but I just kept hearing him in my mind saying, play harder, give me more, play the arpeggio all the way up there, sit straighter…all these things were going through my mind as I was playing my piano tribute to him.
This is going to sound weird, but I remember playing “Earth Song” and I could have sworn I felt cold wind across my fingers. I don’t know where it came from, but I could feel a wind across my hands. I didn’t stop playing; I acted like I didn’t know, and I asked the engineer after the first cut if he had the air-conditioner on, and he said no.
Valmai: Do you believe that was Michael?
Mengesha: Yes, yes! I know what I felt. As soon as I started playing the first chord, it was as if someone was blowing down on my fingers because it tickled a little bit. It startled me, but I kept playing. I think it’s a good thing I felt Michael’s presence while I was playing because in my mind I was playing to him.
Valmai: A lot of people have had that experience; a spiritual connection with Michael.
Mengesha: Yes, I think his spirit is around all of us; those who are really his fans, in his corner and have been influenced by him. If he could come back he would be overwhelmed with all the tributes that have happened since his passing. He would be ecstatic about this, I really believe that.
Let me tell you another story. The night of the This Is It premiere, it was one of the windiest days that California has had in a long time. It was whirling back and forth, and as my friends and I are getting to the red carpet we see a whirlwind, like a tiny tornado that went all the way to the end of the red carpet. We looked at each other like we had literally seen a ghost. I mean this tiny tornado, maybe five feet tall, was just spinning and spinning all the way down the red carpet, and when it got to the end it just vanished.
Valmai: So, what are the odds, even though you can say it was so windy that it caused this tiny tornado, that it would form right there on the red carpet, travelling its length and then just disappear?
Mengesha: I know, I mean we stopped; we saw it. As a matter of fact, there was somebody else who was a Star right in front of us, and we all just stopped at looked at it. Everybody just looked at each other; we didn’t say anything, but it was like, what was that?
So his spirit is around us, and that’s a good thing. I believe Michael was sent here to Earth to entertain us, to bring us all together and bring awareness to healing the world, and to dazzle us with his dance moves; just to inspire everybody to be a better person. Like I said, I believe every fifty years God sends down an angel and I believe Michael was that. People all over the world loved Michael, and then of course the world tried so hard; the negative people tried so hard to tear him down.
I believe Michael was a loan from God; he didn’t give him to us, he loaned him to us, and when the loan was up it was time to take him back. I believe God said to Michael you don’t have to do This Is It, you’ve done enough already; your legacy is done. With This Is It, they just need to see the rehearsal. I mean God could have allowed him to live another day or week or two, to release one of the performances, and then that would have been the movie. But we have the making of it, and what is more better? That to me it is very powerful because we are seeing him natural.
All the years we have seen Michael, we didn’t know what it was like to be in the studio with him, now we know what it was like. When I watched that movie, I saw a whole different side to Michael I’ve never seen before.
FT0104335Original Caption: Michael Jackson (C) shares a hug with his brothers at Madison Square Garden in New York during his first concert in eleven years 07 September, 2001. It was the first of two performances in New York as part of his “30th Anniversary Celebration, the Solo Years.” AFP PHOTO ?Copyright 2000 Corbis