LEWISTON — If you haven't seen the new Pallaso & The Mess video, you clearly don't spend enough time on the Internet.
Released May 17, the video has had nearly 4,000 views on YouTube. Locally, it's not difficult to see why: The video for the song "Change" is shot in downtown Lewiston and features the blackened remains of buildings recently destroyed by fire. It features some of the firefighters, as well, tired and solemn after two weeks of battling destructive flames. They lean against one of their trucks, fully suited and ready to go.
"I haven't seen it, myself," said Lewiston fire Chief Paul LeClair. "But I talked to some of the firefighters and they thought it was nicely done. I'm not much of a YouTube guy, but I plan to check it out."
The fire scenes look familiar, as do other stretches of the video. Kids wheeling through the skateboard park, locals shooting hoops on the basketball courts in Kennedy Park. Local bridges, local street signs, local everything.
"I'll always stay the same, no matter how far I go," The Mess croons, as the video cuts to the street signs on Blake, Pine, Walnut and Pierce.
And then it's back to the fire scenes: the blackened windows, ruined blocks and ugly patches of land filled with nothing but rubble.
The musician Pallaso lived in Lewiston for a time in 2006. But it's his earlier history that provides him with a deep understanding of the temperament and turbulence of places rocked by violence.
According to his bio: "Pius Mayanja is the name given at birth to this dynamic performer known as Pallaso who was born in Kampala, Uganda, Africa. During his childhood years Pius (Pallaso) experienced things many people in general couldn’t even imagine and it demonstrates his determination to make it as an artist in the music business. There was rampant theft, murder, rape and kidnapping going on within the city and country itself but this did not deter Pallaso from going after his dreams."
Pius came to the United States and met Jesse "The Mess" Hammond who happens to be currently No. 1 on the Maine hip-hop chart. Also, as it turns out, Hammond lives right here in Lewiston. He knows the downtown, so when it was time to shoot a video here, he knew where to go.
Pius said he brought Hammond aboard because he was impressed with the rapper's earlier work.
"I connected with The Mess, also a former sergeant in the Marines, at the end of last year as he caught my attention through his song called 'Lewiston Pain,'" Pius says. "He contacted me on Facebook to do some music."
Both men have experienced good times and hard times in Lewiston. Teaming up for music here seemed fated.
"We did the song 'Change' out of the idea that we both had originally had so much struggle on the streets of Lewiston but had also used them as a platform that led us into so many good things, so the memories stood irreplaceable," Pius said. "We in fact had recorded a few songs together, but for some reason, after days of driving around bumping 'Change' in my car, I told Mess we should do a video and document the untold stories of Lewiston to the world.
"We decided we were going to shoot the videos on all the streets of Lewiston that have had stories told about them," Pius said, "but everything changed the day of the shoot: The videographer canceled the day he was supposed to shoot the video, but then that's the same night all the burnings started."
While they were looking for another videographer, more buildings burned, every one of them on the streets they planned to feature in the video.
"It was very painful," Pius said, "that they were all burnt down, in ashes, by the time we could make it to shoot the video."
The idea of shooting at the fire scenes isn't about exploiting tragedy, Pius said. It's the other way around. The bridge scene, for example, was filmed in the area where Hammond almost lost a sister a few years ago.
"We aimed at making something good out of every tragedy," Pius said. "Like, for example, the video was to be the beauty that came from the fires."
Hammond has been rapping on stage since 1997, he said, taking a break between 2005 and 2010 to serve as a U.S. Marine.
Part of the joy of making 'Change,' he said, is to illustrate that good things do come out of downtown Lewiston, his home.
"I am just glad to be a huge part of something so beautiful, even during trying times," he said. "There is culture here, and talent here, and hope here. That's what most people told me they loved about the video, that it proved all those things.
"I always lived downtown as a kid," Hammond said, "and I knew a lot of the people who lost homes recently. And it felt right to sort of dedicate a video to them and the whole scene."
"Change" is available on iTunes.