Ethnofusion #003: Celt Islam – Generation Bass

September 13, 2014 - Blog

Around two years ago, I was spending some time in Kathmandu, Nepal when a friend suggested to a restaurant owner that I was a DJ and would like to do some mixing in their mystical establishment. Up to this point, I had heard of a few artists who manage to bridge the gap between ethnic and electronic music; however I found myself needing to provide a lot more than my ethno-fusion knowledge at that time. Muhammad Hamza, a.k.a. Celt Islam a.k.a. The Analogue Fakir is one of the artists who provided proof for me that if executed properly, this type of fusion works %100 of the time. In a global age when cultures mix in the internet melting pot, I think it’s fascinating and important for people to appreciate attempts to bridge minds and bring people closer together. Holistically and musically speaking, today is the time when east finally meets west, when capitalism and communism capitalize on their collective ability, when modern science means spirituality, and unified spiritual and scientific concepts are respected by all walks of life. With this idea in mind, when I realized Muhammad is a British Sufi, I knew I will write a detailed feature on his music as Celt Islam and The Analogue Fakir.

If you’ve followed our blog before, you will know that it takes the form of an artist introduction + album review + interview. This article is no different as it will take some gems from Celt Islam’s previous work, a review of his new Generation Bass album and also a short interview. Here it goes..

In 2009 and at the height of dub/dubstep’s emergence, Celt Islam came out with his first album Dervish. Released through Urban Sedated record label, the album had a heavy roots/reggae/dub vibe infused with Middle Eastern/Indian sounds and vocals by the likes of Bongo Chilli and Dawoud Kringle. With half song-titles in English and the other focusing on Sufi concepts, the balance of the music here is golden, witness for yourself:

Celt Islam – Revolution inside me – Celt Islam meets Masala by Urban Sedated Records

The following year 2010, saw Celt Islam play a live set at Glastonbury at the BBC Introducing stage. It is incredible how well the music works when there is a band playing as well, going to show that this music is really beyond just electronic:

In 2010, the second Celt Islam album ‘Al-Mizan’ (meaning the Balance) was also released, and it broadened the spectrum of Celt Islam from roots/dub into some extremely volatile drum n bass and a few IDM-esque electro tracks. The authentic Celt Islam sound is still present in the album.

Moving into 2012, the Baghdad album was released which is arguably my favourite Celt Islam record. My judgement might be skewed as it was the first Celt Islam record I heard, but the dynamic mystical element to this release is priceless. While the albums before emphasised on a heavy digital dubstep-ish sound, Baghdad is much mellower in general, songs like Borderless World and Against the Green are just golden. You can listen to previews of the whole album here:

Celt Islam’s music ranges from very mellow psy-dub to sufi/world and reggae dub, into dubstep, ethnostep, breaks, IDM, jungle, industrial and drum n bass while sounding like it could originate from 3 different continents. The latest offering by the artist, ‘Generation Bass’ takes the listener back to the heavier high octane Celt Islam sound that fuses the Sufi feel with ultra-charged energy.

Starting with this line from the Quran and an epic intro, attention is automatically hooked into the album on ‘Dub Virus‘:

“How many a small force has triumphed over a much greater one by Allah’s permission! Allah is with the steadfast.” (Surat al-Baqara, 249)

This song is highly energizing and has been a constant introduction tune for all of my running sessions. Equally sounding like a Middle-Eastern version of the Matrix and a Sufi gathering on a different planet, the opener on this album is certainly one of the most gripping songs on this album.

Second track ‘Ghetto Blaster‘ does everything that is mentioned on the tin. Trading most of its ethnic influences for being the soundtrack of a militant spiritual boom-box raider, this is progressive medicinal journey through the dark alleys of the mind with its efficient cleansing sonic might.

At a BPM of nearly 150 BPM, the third track ‘Astro Sufi‘ is one for the psychedelic steppers who like their step slightly faster and accompanied with much ethnic flavour. The tablas and sounds of sitars add to the fluency of the beat, making for an amazingly clean and psychonaut-friendly atmosphere. This one’s definitely more one for internal interstellar travel with quite a few ups and downs and twists within its progression.

At 175 BPM, ‘Baraka‘ instantly reminds of what a battle would sound like with the character of the same name from Mortal Kombat. Arguably the fastest tune on the album, this is certainly somewhere between DnB, Breaks and Dubstep and it’s certainly on the darker side of the Celt Islam spectrum, yet it still manages to encapsulate an essential spiritual struggle to liberation.

At 8 minutes duration, ‘New World‘ is an utterly progressive journey moving from mellow to heavy and back and forth, trading an almost Indian feel for digital mayhem on a minutely basis. ‘Cosmonaut‘ is another 155 BPM digital dub banger, with similarities to New World with its dub-driven repetitive yet ever-evolving gripping nature. This one is certainly one for the Star Trek Enterprise crew to bump when travelling outside the Alpha Quadrant.

Transonic Velocity‘ is reminiscent of old-school dubstep with high frequency siren-like digital synths, and it is probably one of the more experimental and noise-based tracks on the album; perhaps as explained in the title, due to the transonic nature of the song, some of the frequencies are just beyond our human comprehension. The wandering vocals included in this song highlight some of the most soothing moments on the album.

The title track ‘Generation Bass‘ starts off with reggae dub sirens and twirling into amazing Sufi sounds and it is one of the other highlight tracks on the album and reminiscent of the sound of the Baghdad album, with its higher emphasis on the ethnic part of the formula than the digital heaviness.

Earth Tribe‘ is somewhere between Dub Virus and New World in the sense that it goes from soothing to extremely epic in a 7 minute progressive journey, reaching some mind-melting heaviness levels around 4:30.

Interstellar Nomad‘ is definitely another one blasted on the bridge of Star Trek Federation spaceships especially suitable for when a high-speed chase of a Romulan bandit spaceship ends up in an audial hailing of the enemy spaceship and the enlightenment of these wrongdoers through the meditative and enlightening of Earthen Sufi Breaks; truly like the calibre and duty of an interstellar nomad.

Celestial Invasion‘ is another cross of Middle Eastern wailing and Indian atmospherics progressing over a 6.5 minute period leading to the closer ‘Energize‘ which is another high-octane banger with a trance type lead, dubby wubs, an almost IDM drum line and plenty of soul seeking ethnowails. This song proves as a colossal closer to this densely-charged and action-packed album.

There is really no other band or music that is similar to the Celt Islam experience. The experience is so fluent and progressive, calming and energizing, and spiritual and down-to-earth while sounding incredibly authentic. I was recently at Boom Festival when I heard a Celt Islam track and I instantly recognized it. The composition and how the music is created have been carved into this unique sound, which is distinguishable even on different albums. Another interesting point about this offering is that on first listen, it may sound a little repetitive to an impatient ear; but when the true connoisseurs dig their ears into this, they know that the 12 tracks are written in 10 different keys across a variety of BPMs.

Production-wise, this album sounds cleaner than a polished crystal. All sounds, EQs, mixing, panning, mastering have been done to the highest level, and this has been tested on home speakers, over the loud noise of London underground’s trains, in a live atmosphere and in a car. Overall, this is a must-have album for anyone who likes their dub epic, vicissitudinous and spiritually-strengthening.

Finally, it’s time understand the mind and soul behind this music:

Q. Greetings Muhammad, what got you to come up with the concept of Sufi inspired electronic music?

A. As a member of a Sufi order, it was only natural that i would end up as a music lover doing something which combined both Sufism and my addiction to sound. 

Q. You make everything from mellow IDM to Reggae Dub, Drum n Bass and Heavy Breaks. What are your musical background and reason for your large scope of genre interests?

A. To be honest when I write a piece of music, genre never actually comes into my mind. I simply write what i feel at that moment in time and in most cases I am always writing more than one track; in fact at the moment, I have at least 20 tracks on the go lol. As for musical tastes and interests, well my music world is wide from Classical music to Dub from Punk to Jazz , one could say I am a musical connoisseur.

Q. Being a British convert, what lead you to your particular form of Islam? Would you consider yourself to be Sufi?

A. Interesting question as a Muslim and a convert to Islam many folks do ask me concerning the science of Islamic spirituality [ Sufism ]. Tasawwuf [Sufism] in reality is not a form of Islam nor is it esoteric Islam and it is not an Islamic sect but nothing other than the deep spirituality of Islam. Indeed there are sects of people who call themselves Sufis but they are far from what the true Sufis taught. Sufism is the science of the path to Allah {God}. Sufism is the science of conforming the path of Islam through the direct experience of the Real instead of through the tongue or learning from books. The Muslim affirms: ‘La halwa wa la quwwata illa billah’ {There is no power and no strength except Allah}. It implies that there are not two forces in the universe. There is only Allah. It is typical of the esoteric theology to say that the world is divided into two forces fighting each other; the good verses the evil or the darkness versus the light or the truth versus the false. “Haqq is fighting Batil” – this is a typical dualist statement. But it is impossible. Batil, “falsity”, cannot stand against Haqq { Truth }, because there are no two powers except in the imagination of the mushrikun { Those who associate partners with God }.

Q. The music you make sounds more like cultural pieces than entertainment. What do you think is your purpose when making music?

A. Music is a part of me, always has been and I suppose to be honest, I just love creating textures of sound and sharing them with folks.

Q. While some including myself believe that dance and music is compatible with Islam whereas some think differently and completely opposite. How is the general perception of Muslim folks when they hear your music? And what is your thought on the compatibility of Islam and Music?

A. The Issue of Islam and music can be at times a problem as there is a view among some schools of Islamic thought that music leads to trouble and that music is a form of sin. The scholars of Islam have debated this issue for centuries and some are against music totally and some are actually musicians who stand firmly that music itself is not haraam [ forbidden ] but that music is Halal [ Permissible ] by default but it is one’s intention that music is judged by. The Qur’an does not even mention music and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad show that music was around during his time and he did not stop anyone from performing music or dance in fact in the famous hadith collections you will find many traditions of him taking his Wife to see the African converts to Islam dancing and beating drums in the Mosque in Medina.

One of my Sufi teachers who is also a member of Celt Islam, Dawoud Kringle aka The Renegade Sufi says on music : “Music is a mathematical, visceral, and psych-spiritual microcosm of the universe; as is humanity. It is extraordinarily powerful and at the same time subtle. Most are unaware of its nature and possibilities. Its power is, in its primordial form, morally neutral. Human intention and application make it either beneficial or destructive.”

Q. With projects such as Artists Against Apartheid Vol.1&2, you are a fairly socially and politically active individual. To what extent do you think music can have a bearing on those larger issues?

A. Music for Gaza series is one close to my heart as I am a peace activist and believe in the right for Palestine to exist in its own land. The albums are to raise funds for lovely non-political charity and raise awareness of the situation that the people of Palestine have had to live with for over 60+ years. One could say I am political and indeed I am for true Islam is a balance of the inner and outer world, that balance of political and spirituality has always been my path and always been the path of the great Sufis.

Thanks for your time!

Perhaps what one could take away from this interview is that once the original reason for religion is found on a personal and community level, it is realized that this inner and outer search for meaning goes far beyond the notions of spectral dualism. While all that is said here fully resonates with my mind-frame, I cannot consider myself to be a Muslim Sufi as I do not practice the culture. However I can understand that Celt Islam’s cultural narrative and way of living is his method of reaching the ultimate message of unity; a message that I may find through my personal non-defined and cultural mishmash way of thinking, or a scientist may find through a unified theory of everything.

You can find Celt Islam on SoundCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Bandcamp.

Celt Islam (2)

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