By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas
When a fusion of cultures, a dash of modernism and a sprinkle of heritage and talent come together, magic happens. Congo Square, a collaboration between the London-based Hip Hop and spoken word duo, Poetic Pilgrimage, and LA based producer DJ Anas Canon, has captured that magic.
After meeting during a tour in London in spring 2009, Canon and the duo, Muneera Rashida and Sukina Abdul Noor, could not wait to work together to “bring something new and fresh to the market.”
“I felt a lot of the frustration they were having working particularly within the Muslim community there because of what I believe to be misogynistic view points on women and they were having a hard time finding ways to get their product produced and out in the market,” said California native Anas Canon.
“I felt really honored that they would be interested in collaborating with me and working on something because I really wasn’t bringing that baggage to the table in terms of religiosity and what you can and can’t do. I don’t really believe in incorporating that in my art. So it was very honest and very mutually respectful approach that we took to finding ways that we could sort of collaborate,” he said.
Born in Bristol to Jamaican parents and performing together for over 6 years, the Poetic Pilgrimage duo focuses their music on the way they find and perceive the world, often trying to look for the beauty within it. Constantly discovering and trying to find their sound and portraying it with a beautiful Islamic message, they say their music is designed to “stretch out of their own community and immediate reach, and offer the world a universal message with a global reach beyond boundaries”.
“We are constantly growing and learning,” said Rashida. “This project with Anas is so incredibly creative and unique and diverse and really pushed us out of our comfort zone.”
The music is a brilliant blend of Hip Hop, Funk and Caribbean-influenced beats built with an infectious Reggae feel. The songs communicate with African, American and Caribbean cultural influences making it reflective, modern and laden with heritage all at once.
Canon says he found it fascinating to find the beginning of African-American culture and this African/Caribbean/American cultural expression taking place in this one particular square.
“Considering they (Poetic Pilgrimage) are Caribbean in their roots, even though they are in London and because they’re so far away, our shared heritage of being African and how it’s sort of been metamorphosed into whatever it is today, given the territories that we were raised in, make the name fit the project,” Canon said.
With an ocean separating the artists, the project itself, however, was not an easy task. Doing most of the collaboration work through cyberspace, they worked, altered, and rewrote their raw material constantly sending it back and forth across the Atlantic. After the opportunity finally arrived for them to work in person in California, they had no trouble staying in locked in a studio and recording music together for about a week.
“The process itself was rewarding enough for me,” said Canon. “The fact that we were actually able to create a product that we could put in the market and other people would seem to really dig. That was the by-product and something we were really happy about.”
Noor says recording down there, on the other hand, can be challenging as well in many different ways that the duo did not expect.
“Working with different people other than each other was a bit stressful and challenging as well. But with that challenge, honest, sincere and great stuff came out”, said Noor. “Anas has opened up something inside of us and vice versa. It doesn’t fit into any music genre and it isn’t limited in any way. It’s our own take on what Hip Hop means to us.”
Secret Sweetness, one of Canon’s favorite songs in the album, was created as a love song for the Creator. Writing the music and lyrics to the chorus himself, Canon held on to this musical prayer until he decided it would be a wonderful piece to do with Poetic Pilgrimage.
“I thought it would be a great piece for them because it’s very vulnerable and they seem to be more amiable to the idea of being vulnerable in a creative space more than a lot of the male rappers that I work with”, said Canon. “It’s probably my favorite song on the album just because of the intent behind it and what it’s trying to express which is the sweetness that you get from communing with the Creator, the sweetness of that interaction when you feel that there’s nothing like it. It’s a secret because it’s between you and your Creator; no one else can experience it or understand it and that makes it so much more valuable.”
This new, inspiring, vulnerable piece was new to the girls and a special one for them as well.
“It’s a very spiritual, touching, powerful song that tapped into the vulnerable side of us,” said Rashida. “It shows us you don’t always have to have a tough exterior all the time.”
The Congo Square album is certainly a unique gem with much more to offer just than one listen. Canon continues to mix and release songs, some of which have already turned into remixes, with the hope that if people respond well to this project, another one may be in order.
The album’s newest song release Super Power is home to a powerhouse family of sounds reminiscent of war anthems and speeding peace trains. Think John Lee Hooker meets Muta Baruka.
“Music perspective is limitless and when music comes from the heart, you can expect magic and a powerful message through beautiful, uplifting music,” Rashida said.
The independent record label behind the album, Remarkable Current, is a collective of musicians, writers and producers founded and directed by Anas Canon himself. Founded in 2001, this nationwide collaboration of artists from around the globe promotes a fantastic blend of modern, passionate, and cultural music produced to inspire people from all over the world with a new sound and fresh outlook on art as a whole.