Joshua Luke Smith
Heart of Man
Heart of Man is available at:
5th January, 2017
IT is good to be back with an artist who…
last year, provided some of the most inspirational and selfless music I have heard. Well, I say ‘music’; it is easier to call Joshua Luke Smith’s work poetry and philosophy. That might seem highbrow or hyperbolic but it is no exaggeration. I have been following him, on and off, for the past year and excited by his progress. I shall come to his music soon: before I do, I want to look at inspirational songs and that which slow us down (in a good way); looking at charities including Preemptive Love Collection – who Smith is working with – and artists extending beyond music itself – including charity work and raising awareness. In all of this, I will talk a bit about genres and sounds I am backing to be in style this year. Before all of that, it is rare I get to investigate a musician who reacts to world events and combats it with messages of love and hope. As you will see from Smith’s biography; he is a man who has witnessed a lot of turmoil in 2016 – the sort we have all shared and regret – and is ready to soothe the heart and offer leadership. After last year’s political strife and dislocation; there a temptation to resort to tribalism and hurt our neighbours. Britain has removed herself from the E.U. whilst the U.S. is keen to alienate from every other nation in the world – its (sane) citizens horrified at Donald Trump’s plans, Tweets and vitriol. Every diatribe, dictatorial mandate and attempts at racism – his attempts at a travel ban that would exclude those from seven, largely Muslim nations. We have all emerged from 2016’s backend exhausted, scared and weakened. If the Brexit vote was unexpected, to say the least: the election of Trump shocked the free world to its very core. Not forgetting the attacks in Aleppo and continued terrorism; the bloodshed and racially-motivated violence in the U.S.; the celebrity and musical deaths – it is a wonder the world is still standing at all.
PHOTO CREDIT: @dominic_doring
I guess there are those who say we should be pragmatic and dispose of any idealism and naivety: the planet will never link in a mass chorus of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony). Nobody expects utopia and a nirvana but, at the same time, we want a modicum of civility, brotherhood and discipline. I have not even mentioned the way the U.K. is dissolving politically – Labour, a spent force with Theresa May’s seemingly leading the U.K. into disaster. Set all this aside and it is clear we all need to calm and find something positive. Many would ask whether that is truly possible. We have all been led by the genitals and given a swift kick to the face. The good thing about it all is 2016 is over: surely this year, by comparison, must be a better one?! Whilst a lot of musicians – realising the hardship and fragmentation of 2016 – have buried their heads in the sand and, essentially, continued as normal; there are those that tackle a dreadful year with something spirited and universal. I have long-said the world would be a better place were we to throw control and leadership over to musicians: a group of humans who only want good and are determined to make the world a better place. That theory is best reserved for another time but Joshua Luke Smith would definitely be in my Prime Ministerial cabinet. The, as I’m coining him, Secretary for Peace and Togetherness (a very Summer of Love-esque cabinet by the sounds of it!) is here to slow down the blood flow and get the pulses at a G.P.-approved sixty (to one-hundred) B.P.M. That heart rate/calming motive is something that fascinates me. We get few songs arrive that are intended to take away the stress and eradicate bad memories. I think all of us need that psychological boost through music: dissipating any anxiety and having something soft and meaningful filling the ears. It is no surprise Joshua Luke Smith has taken such an approach to music. Before I continue – remiss of me – I will introduce Smith to you:
PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell
“The 25-year-old wordsmith and philosophy graduate has always managed to combine his love of words and music to inspire people to break free from their own limitations. After the success of his video ‘Carry me’ (premiered by Complex), Joshua dropped a track alongside a powerful video for National Suicide Awareness Day with Samaritans and in October released another visual poem for Anti-Slavery Day in support of charities A21 and Love146. Joshua was also involved in a collaborative track for World Aids Day (in partnership with HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trustwith) with singer Laura Riganti early December.
With everything that has happened in 2016, Joshua wants to use his voice and his art to ‘cut through the chaos’ and speak ‘hope and freedom’. His new song ‘Heart Of Man’ deals with a timely subject – he explains “This last year has been mad, unsettling and distressing at times. We feel divided, isolated and at war with our neighbour. This song is both a lament and moment of reflection. A call to lay down the stones, gripped in our palms, readied to throw at the first person who speaks against us, our tribe or belief. We shape the world around us by shaping the world inside of us, everything flows from the heart. My hope is this song helps to slow us down, to help us step into this year fully here, present, with hearts full and ready to love.”
PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell
His charity work, which I shall elude to more soon, has opened him up to a lot of different causes and sufferers: people who go through hard times and struggle alone. Many musicians, and people in general, are never party to such people and avenues. Their music revolved around their own experiences and personal life; there is a comparatively limited empathy and selfishness. I am not suggested all musicians focus on their own pain: there are very few who create work intended for everyone; away from concerns of love and heartache. I always get excited discovering songs that have a different skin and conscientious mindset. Not only is that a refreshing change of pace but inspiring for everyone – not just musicians. What Heart of Man does, in addition to establishing Smith as one of the most interesting talents to emerge in a long time, is subvert expectation and wholeheartedly give to the audience. A lot of artists let the listener into a song but few pen a track designed to enhance the mood. Not only is it (the track) a deep and evocative example of Smith’s talent but something that makes you think and reflect. Sure, it was a bad 2016 for a number of different reasons: it will be, as Smith implores, a better year; one with fewer conflicts and more togetherness. The meat and bones of Heart of Man is a reaction to the, perhaps biblical, savagery – in terms of opinions and verbal dissension – we have seen on social media and society. We have, because of political differences and ideological divisions, balkanised and retreated to our own caves – disagreeing with anyone who has a different opinion and all too eager when reaching for weapons. Our people have witnessed a world unrecognisable descent into Neolithic, Stone Age democracy: where the worst instincts and deep-set prejudices of man have seen hateful political changes and huge division. It is hard putting things into words or making sense of it all – as you can tell from my poor syntax and semi-garbled sentiments. Outside the chorusing diatribes and universal protests: there is a call for change; a chance to quell the spirit and provide democratic governance. Smith is an artist always engaging with his fellow man and reflect the needs of the people. It is good hearing love songs and ‘sellable’ songs but, now more than ever, our musicians need to say something meaningful that reflects the world around them. That is why Joshua Luke Smith is such a vital artist we should all support: one of those humans who cannot sit by and passively watch everything unfold.
PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell
I wanted to mention the Preemptive Love Coalition because of Smith’s affiliation of the charity. In the past, Smith has raised awareness of suicide – Carry Me coincided with National Suicide Awareness Day; that song raised support for The Samaritans – and Anti-Slavery Day. Preemptive Love Coalition’s mantra is clear: “We fear loss. We fear shame. We fear ideologies and religions. We fear vulnerability”. For that reason, as the charity is “a global movement of peacemakers changing the way we engage the world’s most polarizing confronting fear with acts of love”. All proceeds from the track will be donated to the charity to help combat division and conflicts around the world. It is an organisation that goes to great lengths to raise awareness of struggles and atrocities by providing crucial support and messages of love. The charity help to empower small business owners and provide education for at-risk children. They provide emergency relief for families victimised by I.S. and are peacemakers in conflict-zones. Working across Africa and Asia, Preemptive Love Coalition are a worthy and impressive body who endlessly strive to help those in need. The world is at a vulnerable and ramshackle state right now. It needs repairing and help more than any time in living memory. You can check out the charity’s web page to get a better sense of what they are about. Heart of Man is a song that could well be the anthem for P.L.C. Smith has tapped into their ethos and created a song that sonically represents what they’re about and the problems we face. Preemptive Love Coalition aim to provide calm and nurture to those ravaged; in-need and afflicted. Heart of Man is a song, as I will go into, that urges people to look at the charity and what they do but cast our minds to the wider world. Many of us are bombarded with news images of various horrors in the world. Nightly, we are subjected to bloody images and heart-breaking reports. We should never ignore these things but not assume all is hopeless and lost. If we band together and galvanise; we can confront the darker, hateful side of the world with an overwhelming spirit of love and support. It may all sound a bit wishy-washy and fairy-tale but we are seeing positive changes made. Not only is the organisation seeing the fruits of their labour (ripen) but they are compelling artists like Smith to take action and help promulgate their mission statement.
This gets me on to a two-prong point: musicians that work with charities and those with a different C.V. in their back catalogue. I’ll come to the second point soon, as one would imagine, but am fascinated by Smith’s trajectory and ideologies. As (Smith) someone who has battled depression, it was no surprise he delivered such a stirring anthem in Carry Me. Smith has used his voice to patronise charities involved with anti-slavery, Aids and mental health: his latest venture is a perfect example of a young man who feels he needs to use his talents in order to de-stigmatise certain corners of society. I have promoted and interviewed musicians who take a charity-conscious attitude to things and willing to break the traditional constructs and expectations. Music and charity are not dichotomous and it would do good for others to realise that. I am not saying every musician needs to support charity bodies and become more conscientious but it would be good to see a movement occur. So few are dispensing with the love-only style of music and detailing deeper subjects and hard-hitting visions. Joshua Luke Smith is a perfect artist who balances traditionalism and kind-hearted pioneer – somebody who feels everything and expresses himself through some of the most vivid and human songs you will hear. I have not really touched on Joshua Luke Smith as a human and singer – outside the remit of charity and his past work. What you have here is a talent who mixes philosophy and literature; an intellectual mind and effectual heart. There are shades of Hip-Hop and Rap in his music. His songs have a Spoken Word element to them: as I said, his music is almost sermon-like in its delivery and power. I have seen photos and social media updates where Smith has performed at cafés and small venues: captivating intimate crowds with little more than a microphone and arsenal of songs. Against the tide of bands and artists armed with instruments, crew and huge sets; here is someone who strips it all back and provides music bristling with poetic beauty and raw human emotion. His performances are powerful and energised; they get right in to the core of your being and provoke reaction and attention. No baubles, needless noise and glitz: an artist, pure and simple, capable of making a big different in the music world.
Heart of Man is the latest cut from Smith but he has had an incredible past with an array of material. Carry Me, a song I mentioned earlier, referenced mental health struggle and was one of the most powerful and potent songs he has created. Most of Smith’s songs do carry that weight and authority with them: you are hardly likely to hear him descending into love-ballad territory or doing something formulaic. Carry Me, from the Your Beauty E.P., is backed by stunning tracks The Thief and After All. The entire E.P. is consistent and flowing with incredible rhymes; wonderful vocal performances and some of the most emotive and stunning music you’ll hear. Heart of Man is not a huge departure in terms of quality – it was always there and strong. What I am noticing is Smith embracing charity more and immersing himself in a more socially-aware style of music. Not that all his forthcoming songs will support causes and recognise world problems. The young artist is reacting to the world around him and realises it is important talking about things like political and world issues and showing common unity. Smith’s debut E.P., Between the Saddle and the Ground, was a huge success and reached the top-ten spots of the U.K. and international iTunes charts. March 2014 was All Shall Be Well ‘s release date: the first album from the Bath-based Hip-Hop artist. That was released on the Orphan No More label – which Smith, who runs it, says the tagline is simple: ‘Everybody Has a Message’ – and has been topped by some incredible music and huge ambition. I know Joshua Luke Smith will continue to make great music and seems to grow in stature and confidence with every song. I am excited to see what this year holds and how it translates – whether we can see new music or tours from the young artist.
PHOTO CREDIT: @karaannmariesmith
Opening with a gentle and tender piano line; Heart of Man has a very delicate and lullaby-like beginning. You are sucked into something very comforting and still but never feel switched-off or disengaged. The piano has a power and meaning to it but does not get too heated and large. It is a coda that continues on and starts to build images and emotional possibilities. This opening refrain seems to define the song. Heart of Man looks back on 2016’s events and calls for people to stand together and stop with tribalism attitudes. Accordingly, the introduction beckons the listener in and allows them chance to imagine their own scenes and possibilities. You hear a slight utterance from Smith before the young man comes in harder. His words are tense and powerful but that background composition never accelerates or gets too loud. What you get is the soft piano and poetic, impassioned vocal. Smith, in the first verse, wonders why we are all here and what is going on. Our hero is looking sad at a photo of a kid lying on the seashore. He should have been building sandcastles but has been washed away. Whether referring to the immigration crisis – where thousands would try to cross the seas to a new land only to be captured by the cruelty of the water – or a metaphor for ignorance and problems we overlook – it is a powerful thought you cannot help but picture what is being sung. I say the word ‘sun’; Smith is much more a poet and ensures his words are almost spoken. In a way, Heart of a Man is a cross between a political speech and sermon: without the pomposity and unemotive delivery of the former or the piousness of the latter. That chorus comes back in – the hero trying to understand what we’re here for – and sees “sons and daughters” washed up like waves; those who should be playing with bucket and spade and laid in the sand to be put in bags. It is a harrowing feeling but delivered with just the right blend of emotions and compositional notes. Were strings to wash in or the piano to become too noticeable it might distill the words or give the song a predictable route.
As it is, Heart of Man is all about that central vocal and the lyrics. You get backing (female) vocals in the chorus and other tones but the focus is very much on Smith. His projection and delivery is always fascinating to me. It is very much in the Hip-Hop arena but there isn’t the aggression and attitude you get with many performers. Instead, Smith is more emotional, relatable and human. You are never put off by braggadocio and arrogance nor left cold but a sense of emotional detachment. Every line of Heart of Man seems utterly essential and urgent. The hero ran to his mum’s house after seeing an image on the front page: another horrifying image from around the world that causes the reader to balk and recoil. It was, in 2016, almost a daily occurrence: seeing the bloodshed and injustice; people standing back and watching it unfold. Whilst we have all lived through the year and saw some awful things; that is the state of the world and will continue this year. Smith is the pacifist and peacemaker that wants things to change and seems part of the silent majority. Those who perpetrate cruelty and evil are shouting loud and overwhelming those who want things to change. Instead of getting angry and fighting fire with fire; we must find a more constructive and humane way of ensuring things like this are not repeated. “You cannot change the system if you remain a victim” seems to really underline what the song is about. There seems to be a double-meaning at play. On one hand, those who are always trodden-down and betrayed will never have the power and voice to make things better and change that system. Perhaps those who are victimised and oppressed are the ones who can make positive changes but will never get to have their say. On the other, and more likely hand, one feels those who complain and feel they are hard-done-by will always be part of the problem and not the solution. We cannot go around and want sympathy and moan when there are bigger things happening – people who are worse off and need help.
PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell
The only way to make constructive changes is through the betterment of our souls – cleansing the negativity and perpetrating a much more productive and helpful attitude. That is what I got from the song but maybe Smith had other plans. As things continue, the intensity and emotion of the song never relent. You get the feeling you are immersed right in the thick of the front pages: vividly seeing all the dislocation and torment unfold and standing there aghast. I guess that is part of the problem with last year: we all complained about the way things went but had the wrong approach. Whether you (like me) disagree with the Brexit result or feel flabbergasted by the continued terrorist attacks; we all have to bandy together and start approaching things differently. It is no good grousing and playing the victim as that will get us nowhere. We yearn to touch the sun, as Smith attests, but “afraid of the solar system”. We all want perfection and to make things right but are, perhaps, fearful of getting involved and actually ignore what is happening in the wider world. Those in a more privileged position want their own lives to be as spotless as they can but are reluctant to reach out to their fellow man – whether they are on their own street or in some foreign land. Again, that is the vibe I got but can hear what Smith is saying: stop reaching for flint and sharp sticks as a natural evolutionary reaction and approach hatred and division with more compassion and affection. The nature of selfishness is examined as we are all aware. Most of us are too wrapped in their own existence to see there are things outside that need to be addressed. The politicians are soundbites and tropes who are parroting decades-old party lines and meaningless bromides – thinking they have a tangible solution and can balm the world’s wounds. Instead, they are aimless, asinine and devoid of any answers. It is rare to see a songwriter who turns the spotlight on themselves and realises we are all part of the problem. Many love songs point blame at the other party or are too self-flagellating and mopey to really engage and inspire. Instead, Smith has created a song that does not blame people or needlessly accuse. He has penned a wise cautionary tale that realises things are bad and they need to change. Every one of us is in the same boat and need to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. By the final notes, you want the song to continue and reluctant to let it go. Smith claims we are all migrants and the same as those we see on the news. None of us is any different to the people we see in body bags and struck by civil war and terrorism. When we pull these barriers away, we are all looking at our brothers and sisters. When you drill it down to familiar levels; it makes the words much more stirring and sobering.
PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell
Smith’s voice becomes more cracked and affected as the song reaches night-time. The chorus becomes more relevant and emotional each time it is performer. Sure, we all shed a tear when we saw those images on the front covers. How many of us actually felt compelled to do something about it or let it stick in the mind. Most of us forgot about it or took a hateful, vitriolic approach to such scenes. It is never productive and human striking against those who strike; getting mad at the system when we all have the potential to make things better. In a way, it is the government here that are responsible for that world debt and deficit. They are contented to parrot hollow words and ruminate without effect whilst things continue to unravel and descend into madness. In a lot of ways, Heart of Man forces people to realise why they are in the world and what their place is. If we are here to serve ourselves and our own desires then how much of a heart do we have – are we ever truly connected and aware of the planet we live in? It is rare discovering a song so detailed, deep and prophetic. I love how Smith’s central performance shows its true emotions and does not hide behind production values and instruments. He hovers and groans in the background to add weight and spectral qualities – sounding a bit like James Blake and the song, Radio Silence. It is eerier at times and oddly still the next; the song will resonate differently depending on who hears it but everyone will take something away with them. In a very real way, we will all become more aware and strong because of the song. Hopefully, Heart of Man will force people to retune their attitudes and stop falling into the same traps. I hope the song forms part of an E.P. or signals more music as Joshua Luke Smith is at his peak and among the finest songwriters in the country. We need more artists like him now so let’s hope we can expect others tracks very soon.
PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell
Joshua Luke Smith has already made a big impact and one suspects he will continue to do great work and rise in the industry. Following a series of charity-supporting singles; one wonders whether we will see an E.P. or album this year. There are certain styles of music I feel will come back in this year. Last year, there was a celebration of fantastic R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap being produced – some of the most urgent and physical albums we have seen for years. In that spirit, British Hip-Hop and Trip-Hop is likely to be in many (musicians’) minds. Smith plays across various genres but has that rooted Trip/Hip-Hop/Rap sound; straying into Soul too. Unlike some of 2016’s best music – that relied on glossy production and compositional force – I feel there is going to be more attention paid to lyrics and bare emotion. Smith looks at troubles and the world around us and implores calm and love. You are transfixed by his earnestness and passion and intrigued by the beats and aural cocktail he produces. I would love to see Joshua Luke Smith perform more across the U.K. and get his music out there. I am unsure how his diary is looking this year but one suspects there are dates afoot. As I stated; he is someone who can hold court at bars and cafés; he has what it takes to enthral larger spaces and arenas. I do not know how he is planning his year but I expect there to be new music and tours. I’m excited to see where he heads and what is coming next as Joshua Luke Smith is a very special and rare artist. I admire those that take the time to think about more than themselves, sales figures and following the herd. I will return to my earlier points soon but wanted to proffer and promote the nub of Smith’s artistry and personality.
Smith is a man who has faced his demons and struggles and, instead of negatively casting his fears inwards, he exerts an outward attitude of inspiration and acceptance. He has struggled with mental health issues but does write music tortured and self-flagellating. Many of us go through that pain and feel stigmatised and alone. Smith, alongside The Samaritans, has penned music that tears down walls and opens its arms to sufferers of depression, anxiety and other psychological issues. In that same spirit, he is all too willing to back charities that do important work and represent those who are often overlooked and under-the-radar. By bringing the ‘minority’ into the spotlight, it gives confidence to those affected – and fellow musicians – and provides strength. Aside from the charity connections, the wit and intelligence of Smith is not to be overlooked. He has studied philosophy and brings a very wise and sharp pen to music. His lyrics do not deal with tropes and inane lines: each song is dripping with thought-provoking words and brilliantly inventive lines. Around him, the compositions range from dark and sinewy to sensual and sleek. You get so many different ideas and possibilities projected in music that, at times, is quite skeletal and uncluttered. That economical and bold approach to music is not anaemic or misguided – you get plenty of power and possibility in every track. I am keen to lend my support to those artists that go beyond what is expected and deliver something extraordinary to the world. Joshua Luke Smith is one such example of what music should be about. Let’s hope the coming months see him getting out to the people and showing just what he is about. Heart of Man is another extraordinary song that will stay in the mind for a very long time.
I started this piece by looking at the state of the world and the desire for safety and support; a universal spirit that is seeing populous love and affection spread like wildfire; a collective decision to overwhelm oppression and bullying by coming together in solidarity. There are a lot of disaffected and confused people on the planet – I can include myself in that list. We have lived in the world long enough to know things will not always go according to plan but 2016 was beyond any logical comprehension. People’s mindset and motivation is a case of obfuscation. In reply to the rather alarming results of the year, there is a lot of hate and anger percolating like a poison. Some of this is a reaction to Brexit/Trump but, in general terms, there is a lot of warfare, discrimination and emotional poverty dropping ink and acid into the ocean of human kindness. We should never assume this state of affairs is inextinguishable or irreversible climate change; not a terminal illness and indefatigable monster. Sure, we will never eradicate poverty, hatred and war but we can react to it in a positive way. Constructivism seems an illogical response to political dissension and unconscionable violence but that is the way we must react. Until such time ‘stability’ is a reality we, as human beings, must electioneer on grounds of love, peace and support. As Joshua Luke Smith stated, when describing the inspiration behind Heart of Man, there has been a lot of petulance and tribal behaviour among the people last year. 2016’s democratic process has been inscrutable as Sphinxs: the majority of two of the world’s most-powerful nations deciding they are better off embracing the worst possible option. Democracy is, unfortunately, there to represent the majority vote and should not be challenged. I, myself, am unhappy about the way things have gone but can do nothing to override it.
Let us go headlong through 2017 with a different attitude. In a weird and roundabout way, something good has come out of the satanic bloated bowel movement that was 2016: a chance to prove we are stronger and better people than those who perpetrate acts of evil and moral corruption. Heart of Man is an antithetical anthem against the inferiority of numbers discontent and grouching. Rather than cavil and throw one’s toys from the pram: consider moving through life with a sense of acceptance and renewed purpose – sending positive vibes and helping those in need is a much more worthy and productive force. I have a lot of respect for artists that have a constructive attitude to world problems and involve themselves more. It is easy enough standing by passively and playing formulaic, marketable songs. Anyone willing to create something inspiring and socially conscious deserves a sturdy and solid pulpit on which to deliver their messages. Joshua Luke Smith is a crusader of humanity and awareness who insinuates himself in charitable avenues and keenly raises awareness through his music. He is a guiding light to those reluctant or remiss: people who are comfortable in their roles and unbending in their routines. Not only is Smith’s attitude commendable – the fact profits from Heart of Man goes to Preemptive Love Coalition – his music is equally potent and impressive. I have been a fan of his for ages and admire that voice: full of gravity, gravitas and gravel; dark-hued with transoms of light and redemption. His vocals are less singing and more poetic performances. I have not really touched upon Hip/Trip-Hop-cum-Soul stylings and Bath – where Smith hails from – as an explanation and introduction to the young man – maybe that will have to come in another review! Follow Smith and get your ears around Heart of Man – try and pay for it or donate if you can – and follow the plight of a poet-philosopher-rapper-musician who is unlike anyone else – in so many different ways. There are few like Smith so I expect him to a take a while to come to full prominence. Those truly special are always discovered after the more asinine and pedestrian commercial acts. Once Smith’s legacy, talent and voice is suitably excavated, ingested and considered, he will be a big name for sure. Until such time, throw some support for an artist who is trying to make the world a much calmer and…
PHOTO CREDIT: @blaowphotography
MORE enlightened place.
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