Kaleidoscope is available at:
Hip-Hop; Rap; Pop
2nd March, 2017
Loops EP 1 is available from:
IT appears anger and disgust are…
compelling as many words as positivity and recommendation (are). In the wider world, my chagrin and annoyance are aimed more at the local area. When speaking of the larger world; that vitriol is directed squarely in musical realms. Let me clarify that a bit. I have reviewed a couple of female artists recently who, I feel, deserve a lot more than they have. It is, as I type, International Women’s Day and a celebration of womanhood and equality. If it sounds slightly sexist on paper – why are the chaps not getting their due? – I completely understand the commemoration. There is, as we can see around the world, a sexism and prejudice that has been prevalent since the dawn of time. Development, evolution and modernity have hardly stripped away the layers of discrimination and injustice. When you look at female musicians, how many are actually granted the same rights and opportunities as they male equivalent? There are probably statistics and pie- charts that visualise the gender-gap but you do not need PowerPoint presentations to state the obvious: things are not equal and show no signs of remedying anytime soon. The most productive and inspiring thing that could happen is REAL change coming about from a movement/day like the one today. It is great celebrating women and putting them in the spotlight: if they, at the end of it, are in the same position as (the day before) then how much of a point is there? With society/jobs, it might take a lot of talk and planning to ensure there are better rights. In music, we can achieve SOMETHING in a short space of time. It is baffling there is this chasm of division and that endless struggle – female artists trying to get on a level-pegging. It is something that might not have an easy answer but it should do. It is perplexing, when I review so many great female artists, they are not further along – perhaps they will never get the same chances as the men. I will leave it there but it brings me to a point about discrimination and rights. I will look at music-cuisine and influences; spirituality and messages of faith; the musicians and artist laying down material in South London; a bit about Hip-Hop/Rap and the resurgence of Urban-based music.
Before that, and faced with an artist of Muslim descent and Indian/Iranian heritage, it gets me thinking of one person: the always-odious Donald J. Trump. I am not going into a political diatribe but wanted to celebrate the Muslim community and faith – how important it is in British music. This is, in fact, the first time I have reviewed a Muslim artist this year. Maybe that is not so rare but it makes me want to seek out more. Not because of a tokenism-drive but celebrate and acknowledge the fantastic artists around. Eye High is someone who makes me think of the U.S. President in a deprecating and comical manner. He has now, if you haven’t heard, revised his ideas of where the “bad dudes” live. Can’t remember which countries he has expunged from his blacklist: it seems, Iraq I think, is ‘safe’ from his sweaty finger of accusation. If the most-powerful nation on Earth is content to exclude Muslims from their nation; we, here, should be more accepting and open-minded. It is a big of a hot topic to raise in a music review but the point is we should be less discriminatory and exclusionary in music. I have already mentioned how women are sidelined a lot: how far does this extend across race and religion? There is, after the Brexit vote, a general feeling: the majority, whether they want to admit it or not, as xenophobic. A strange term (how can you be SCARED by foreigners?) a lot of this stems from a crackdown on immigration – the people here not wanting to open their borders (and arms) to those wanting to seek refuge and a new life in this country. Aside from the fact that we are ALL immigrants – shall not tax their peanut-sized brains with such a mind-bending concept – it makes me bond closer with someone like Eye High.
He is a second-generation immigrant and is in this country because of the opportunities in this country. How long will it be before the salivating Brexit triumphant start imposing Trump-esque moratoriums on our borders? If we exile ourselves from other nations and rigidly exclude certain races/religions, we are fundamentally striking out against humanity and showing ourselves to be cruel and uncaring. The fact Eye High is in the music industry and provides the chance to play music is, in a large part, because of the opportunities his parents were afforded. That is the way it should be, see: allowing immigrants to settle in this country and provide it a diversity, richness and spirit cities like London exude. Were we to homogenise our nation and keep it to the white-only, British-exclusive demographic – what does that say about our people? My point relates to broadening our consciousness and realising we are all one and the same. It all might sound mystical and Summer of Love, but there is too much separation and not enough togetherness. Music is that supposedly gender/race/religion-blind society that judges on talent solely. I am seeing too many people overlooked and judged based on their gender, race and religion. Have evolved and unified is the music world these days? It is an interesting debate but I am pleased somebody like Eye High is in music and provided a chance to shine. In a city like London – sensible enough; they want to remain in the E.U. – there is greater transparency and togetherness. Sure, there are problems with racism but, given the breakdown of races and religions, it is a city that showing how things should be done. Not only is Eye High’s Muslim background intriguing from an equal rights perspective: his musical nature and sound is directly inspired by his familiar background and beliefs. I will come to that in a bit, but at the moment, I wanted to introduce Eye High to you all:
“Inspired by his love of music, his struggles with faith and ‘belonging’ and a desire to better understand the human condition, Eye High has spent the last few years quietly working to create a catalogue of work culminating in a number of projects including the upcoming “Loops EP 1”
Coming from a mixed Indian/Iranian background, the south Londoner grew up with a variety of amazing music – with inspiration coming from the late greats Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Jackson, Hip Hop’s finest Wu Tang Clan, Tupac Shakur, Outkast and The Fugees, Britpop legends Oasis and Blur and a whole host of pop, alternative and rock artists from the last 50 years.
Along with his cultural heritage, Eye High’s Muslim faith has also played a major role in helping to shape the sort of music he wants to create. “God is Beautiful; and He loves beauty” is a prophetic quote that resonates with the artist – and it is the endeavour to create beauty that drives Eye High in all his projects.
As well as his solo work, Eye High and a group of fellow artists (Skirmish, L-HAJJ and Hussain Da Avenue) started IMMIGRANTS (@itsimmigrants) – a conscious hip hop group with bright pop hooks and refreshingly honest lyricism – produced by the talented Jay Picasso – and they look forward to releasing new material in Spring 2017.
Eye High’s first solo project “Loops Ep 1” was released in March 2017 by the newly formed independent label “Off The Boat Records”. It is his opportunity to share his thoughts on the search for and discovery of spiritual balance and happiness, and his struggles with identity and belonging as a second generation immigrant living in South London”.
Okay, then. I am looking at Eye High’s list of influences and a few things strike me. For one, you have someone like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He is/was a Pakistani musician and singer of Qawwali – the devotional music of the Sufis. Many might be blank-eyed when presented with that name but, for me, Nusrat is someone I am familiar with. My first exposure with him was, weirdly, listening to Jeff Buckley’s double-disc live album, Live at Sin-é (Deluxe Version). Reinventing and interpreting his version of Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai; not only was it a fantastically faithful and impressive rendition – the accentuation and rhythms were spot-on – but a glimpse into the sadly-departed legend (Nusrat; Jeff too, mind). In the run-up to that song, a member of the audience at that New York gig – the café Buckley performed in was a tiny Irish coffee shop on the East Side – saw Buckley at a Nursat Fateh Ali Khan gig. Jeff corrected the man on his mispronunciation (it is ‘Nus-wah’, not ‘Nus-rat’), which promoted gales of laughter- of course, Buckley meant it sweetly and was not criticising. It was a charming and unexpected exchange that led to a fantastic performance from Jeff Buckley. I was compelled to look at the back catalogue of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and discover a musician unlike any other. It is rare to hear modern musicians compelled by Qawwali music. Maybe it is more common among Pakistani/Asian denominations – I hope his music is being kept alive by a range of people and nationalities. I am not confessing to being a big fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan but find anyone inspired by him to be very intriguing. You can hear shades of Nusrat in Eye High’s music: that same devotional spirit and transcendence – albeit, in a different, transmogrified state. What Eye High has done is lend the core religious/spiritual core and blends it with modern sounds and a mix of the legends.
It is great to hear a bright young artist subsume (or subvert) expectations and present a broad musical palette. I am getting weary of the generic acts all sounding much like anyone else. When you hear Eye High lay down his vocals, you get some embers of Nusrat and other heroes – Lauryn Hill and Michael Jackson – and those compositions: some Outkast-like Hip-Hop with some smoother Lauryn Hill-like Soul and R&B; some 1980s-Pop undertones and harder, Rock influences. In Kaleidoscope, it is the beats and unexpected compositional moments that coalesce the diverse family tree of music Eye High vibes from. In a sense, you get an international cuisine of flavours and tastes. I am a big fan of artists like Lauryn Hill and Michael Jackson but find their influence diminishes when you come outside of the mainstream. In fact, Hill is someone I only usually hear in female artists – the fact a male artist counts her as an idol is pleasing. Given Eye High’s Muslim and mixed-race background (Iranian and India), it is hardly a shock he has a broad and varied musical affection. Music is at its best, like a population, when it is integrated and has diversity. This is reflected in Eye High’s music: you have a real collage of ideas and impressions coming through. I am not sure whether there will be further E.P.s from the London artist – his Loops EP 1 is his latest – but I am sure, if there are, they will have a similar sound and nature to his current work. I am curious to see who is emerging in music – especially when it comes to London. I will look at that more when I talk about Hip-Hop and Urban music, but it is worth addressing spirituality and faith as inspirations for music.
Faith is a powerful force: whether you have belief or not, it is something that can divide or unify people. Look across history and one can see faith at the cornerstone or some uplifting and memorable moments – responsible for bloodshed and conflict within nations. At times, faith has been a great crime (I use it in the pejorative sense) and is culpable for atrocities and war. More often than not, it is that thing that gives meaning to people and provides guidance. In a musical sense, how often do we hear overt references to faith? Sure, genres like Christian-Rock and Gospel music have that as their core; it is rarer in the mainstream or any other genres, to be fair. Messages and lyrics, indirectly, obliquely or temporised can allude to faith and religion but it is quite hard to detect. Eye High is not someone who quotes from scripture but his beliefs have inspired him to be who he is. Acknowledging God and his power – mantras and lines that fill his mind – the young artist’s Muslim faith has driven his music and goes into everything he does. Managing to combine broader, more ‘commercial’ lyrics within an ecumenical shroud: you have that perfect blend of familiarity with something deeply personal and profound. The young man has seen his family come to London (from Asia) and start a new life here. The trip across and subsequent life here has been successful but there would have been times when that faith was tested. There is racial tension and religious discrimination all across the country – one wonders how much Eye High’s family have been exposed to that. What compels me about him is the way spirituality and religion have spurred him on to make music and find strength. I am an atheist, but find solace and thought within religion. I am never about praying to a deity – I do not believe in an all-powerful single entity exists or would be able to dictate the course of existence. What does resonate with me is a sense of community and love. Muslims are renowned for their compassion and sense of community. They preach about unity and compassion: not something you’d think if you heard Donald Trump. That is why I am curious about Eye High. If the U.S. is battling against an insane President – who has no idea about Muslims and the good they promote – here, in Britain, there is less suppression and hatred (aimed at them). I hear that sense of faith emerge in Eye High’s music. He is someone who tackles the problems of daily life but knows there will be someone listening and watching over him. However you see ‘God’ – a figure claimed by various religions and formed of different guises or more a conceptual spiritual entity – he/she is somebody giving a lot of courage and strength to many. Regardless of belief and scientific evidence: we should never disparage anyone’s faith and talk them out of it. Were Eye High, say, agnostic, would he be the same person? Would he be a musician and as strong as he is? I would say not. It is a fascinating topic and one I will dress further in the conclusion.
I’ll start off, before I come to Eye High’s new music, look at South London and the different areas of London; lead on to Hip-Hop and the Urban sounds coming back into force. What I love about the capital is the contrasting sense of togetherness and difference. There is a common music vein that breaches and straddles boroughs; there is, on the other hand, a distinctly different feeling you get when you visit different quarters of London. I love the different music that comes out of West and East London. I find both areas can be a bit too gentrified and lacks that necessary reality. Sure, there are parts of London that manage to provide a real taste of London and still come across a little gentrified (around Mile End Road and Hackney) but, by and large, you get a cleaner, different vibe to other parts. The music that comes out of these parts varies but there is a lot of good Electro., Pop and Rock music. You tend to find fewer Urban artists performing in these parts –a generalisation but there is the minority-share there. Look at North and South London and you are provided a better representation of London’s cosmopolitanism and less-polished side. Again, there are parts of South and North London that are beyond posh – Crouch End and Muswell Hill for example. What I am finding is an explosion of fantastic talent coming from South London. With areas like Brixton and Clapham on the doorstep; neighbourhoods that are more, in my mind, mixed-race and diverse – it breeds music that is less commercial-driven and has more intrigue and attitude. The Urban scene around South London has always been established but is changing and evolving right now. Naturally, there are ample Pop, Rock and Alternative acts around South London but, for my money, the brightest Hip-Hop/Urban artists in the country. Kate Tempest (from Brockley) is someone I have always used as a measure of South London’s contrasts: a proper, genuine authority of Rap and Hip-Hop tied with intellectual lyrics and poetic beauty. The street prophets of South London are providing music its much-needed sense of diversity and brother/sisterhood.
What I love about that part of London is how authentic and unspoilt large areas are. I used to live around Greenwich-way and used to love how true to its roots it was. There are more coffee shops and modern flats around these parts but it still retains its dignity and maiden name, as it were. It is the multi-cultural neighbourhoods and vibrant streets that, to me, signify the catalyst for this musical explosion. The colourful conversation and array of interactions if providing musicians impetus to create, flow and develop their art. Whether you lay down beats in Brixton or infuse vocals in a Lewisham studio – you get something you cannot get from other parts of London. It is hard to define but Eye High knows wherefore I speak. His music not only derives from his religious belief but, in no small part, down to the communities he is among. This community is witnessing a regency of incredible ‘Urban’ music that is starting to get noticed. I use that word (Urban) cautiously as it is rather vague and old-fashioned. There are so many sub-genres it makes a single word somewhat redundant and undefined. Grime and Hip-Hop are exploding and going through a change. Although one leading light, Skepta, is from North London’s Tottenham; its current king, Stormzy, is from Thornton Heath. He is one of many local residents who is reacting to the streets and daily trials; they hear and learn from their neighbours and people and are putting that onto tape. There is a wave of new music that documents the realities of life in Britain and what is happening – whether that is violence and discrimination or something more positive and hopeful. I recently wrote a piece celebrating the (forthcoming) fifteenth anniversary of The Streets’ stunning debut album, Original Pirate Material. Although a Midlands geezer; Mike Skinner – and his convincing London accent – wrote about the balustrades, dodgy fuc** and late-night regrets of the London streets – name-checking Brixton, Balham and Battersea as he went. Back then, in 2002, there were few British artists talking about something REAL in music. You got a lot of predictable fare, but few who turned the lens on the streets and the mundane aspects of real life. There as a certain mendacity to music, then, that was met with resistant – in the form of Original Pirate Material. The Streets weaved poetic one-liners between the tenement floors; waxed lyrics from the bottom of a pint of Carlsberg; prophesied and promulgated whilst noshing from the latest takeaway binge. It should have created a movement of like-minded artists but was slow to get going – nobody able to do things quite the same way. Over the last couple of years, following a fallow and unspectacular administration of lipid Grime and half-hearted Hip-Hop; there is something inspiring happening. Eye High is part of a shipment promising renewed purpose and sounds that reflect the sounds of the streets – speaking about aspects of everyday life often ignored by the mainstream.
The last point I wanted to address was specific to Eye High. Considering his reverent, God-fearing nature; the sense of pride, community and faith; the fact he is a second-generation immigrant; many would not be surprised to discover his project, IMMIGRANTS. That emboldened type defines a desire for him and fellow artists – Skirmish, L-HAJJ and Hussain Da Avenue – to lead a new revolution in Hip-Hop. I am not sure where his fellow creators stem (if South London or other parts of the city) but what they do is mix personal attributes and musical endeavour into a singular movement. From a personality standpoint; the guys are conscientious and aware of their history and many others in a similar boat. They do not hold back: providing honest discourse and disclosure. Each of them has immigrants in their families and know what the realities are like. Maybe it is a bit easier in South London but I can imagine there is stigma and opposing voices in the wake of the Brexit vote – and the continued legal challenges and issues arising from that. In musical terms, IMMIGRANTS keep Hip-Hop pure and undoctored but suggest something brighter and Pop-like. They do not distill the form or try and make it more digestible for the mainstream. What they do is provide unique insight into genres like Hip-Hop; bring in their individual talents and, mixing It up, provide a musical ideation that should inspire others to get their creative business brains in gear. We need more collectives who promulgate a pure and ambitious way of working: music that is unheard of and inspiring; backstories that compel the listener, and people like me, to dig down and get invested. In the midst of the guys’ project is the production talents of Jay Picasso – someone who is responsible for moulding and nurturing some of this country’s finest new talent. Artists in his stable like Signal are growing stronger and more assured – he’s a Hip-Hop/Rap artist who looks set to make it to the mainstream one day soon. Eye High is one of those acts whose history and family alone inspire people to put pen-to-paper. Whether the other members are putting out sounds this spring or a bit later – it is clear Eye High is leading a charge. Loops EP 1 is the record, and from it, Kaleidoscope shows you what to expect.
It is hard looking back and seeing how far Eye High has come: Loops EP 1 is his first work so shall be judged on its own merits. Away from Kaleidoscope; tracks like Nothing Better provide glimpses into his exceptional talent and abilities. The stirring strings build the song up and create a heady atmosphere. It is romantic and tender but has power running right through it. The mood builds as electronics augment the strings and add touches of heartache to proceedings. The introduction keeps going and stretches out. The track looks at the brevity and unpredictability of life. We die so we can “fly somewhere better”. It is the first instance of religion and faith coming into the music. I wondered whether Eye High was referring to his general faith – knowing there is something waiting – or the way we squander chances and assume we can atone. Being an atheist, it is hard to bond that much with the sentiment but the way the lines are delivered is hugely effective and convincing. There is almost a Spoken Word aspect to things: Eye High narrates more than he sings; like a preacher or observer watching things unfold. Jagged beats enter to beef-up the song as the hero looks around him. That faith and hope make his heart swell and safe. There is nothing better than knowing things will be okay after life ends. Religion, as the name implies, continues the theme and is a more accelerated and pumped song. Things will work out for those who believes; things ca unravel but everything is a sign “for a seeker”. It is a track that has that woozy electronic sound and tight beats: combined, they create something hugely memorable. Both tracks, like everything on the E.P., looks at faith and its importance but addresses the world around. Our hero has struggle and is looking for answers – to do with his heritage and place in the world – but knows he has that fundamental belief and strength at heart. Like Australian Christian-Rock band The Updraft Imperative – I am reviewing them in a couple of weeks – I see them as a more engaging and understandable act than you might imagine. They do not put faith down your throat or project the image of a typical Christian-Rock group. Eye High uses his belief as a platform but never preaches. He creates paens to God and knows he has that fundamental safety net. Looking at struggles in life and the people around him; the music is complex, direct and accomplished. Loops EP 1 will connect with every listener and has so much depth to it. I am looking at current single Kaleidoscope: a brilliant example of what the London-based artist is all about.
The swansong for Loops EP 1 is a production from Jay Picasso and IMMIGRANTS – stylised as ‘I.M.M.I.G.R.A.N.T.S’ as the video’s early images show. Making a song strike and resonate is all about those early moments. If you lose the audience, likely, you’ll do it at the introduction stage. For that reason, few ears can ignore the effectiveness and allure of Kaleidoscope’s start. There is a brief silence before the electronics build-in. There is a funkiness and drive to the sound; it is catchy and sprite but never sounds cheap or rushed. A lot of expertise and thought has been provided to ensure the sound is as solid and nuanced as possible. It is a great way to get the song straight into the brain as our hero steps up to the microphone. It is said if you fall you might not hit the ground. The words are given care and attention that ensures they are heard and understand. In terms of its meaning, everyone will have their own interpretation. It is when “numbers turn to sound”, as it is claimed. Whether referencing his music career – transforming figures and intangible elements into something creative – I am not too sure. What I do know is the hero is casting his voice out there and producing one of his most affecting numbers. Every note drips with thanks, emotion and pride. Maybe there is that feeling that things are now as they should be: faith and music have offered that sanctuary and solid ground that is needed. Colours are opening up and providing a world of possibilities to Eye High. It is hard not to be sucked into the tense and taut beats and that loose, hip-swivelling electronic coda. It dances and weaves; it is swaggering and funky. Eye High syncopates his words and has that brilliant spoken delivery. He does not rush the sentiments; neither does he take too much time and lose momentum. Throughout, there is that feeling of hope and something waiting. I was torn between a religious interpretation or a general assessment of life and success. Of course, music has provided an outlet for Eye High and turned ambitions and dreams into something real.
As is typical with Jay Picasso’s production sound; you get a mixture of cinematic-lush and earthy, real sounds. It blends Urban toughness with something dreamy and luminous. That incredible production and sound never over-polishes the lyrics or distracts from the foreground. It is the man on the microphone that grabs your attention and compels the imagination. Our hero wants to open his soul and close his eyes: let his dreams run wild and fly. Again, I was split between religious analysis and a more general look at life/music. The vocal is always commanding and has that emotional heartbeat. Words do not so much have that traditional Hip-Hop flow; they are presented in a more punctuated and poetic manner. Because of this, and the themes explored, it is a more direct and considered approach – making sure every listener hears the words and feels part of the song. In the video – which helps with story and interpretation – the hero is seen digging dirt and piling it into a suitcase. He goes to board a bus but throws the suitcase onto the pavement. It has humour and mystery but seems to represent someone wrestling with a number of emotions. Maybe the dirt represents a sense of mortality and carrying heavy emotions with you; perhaps the hero is becoming one with the earth and feeling connected. The mantra of “Can you see me?” is something that will stick in the head and provoke a number of different responses. Perhaps Eye High has struggled for recognition from his peers or been in the undergrowth for too long. Battling to get his voice heard and music recognised: now, he is at that point when he is ready to make amends. Maybe there is a feeling of being accepted and found by God. There is a sense of being out in the world and needing someone/something to guide him through. As the song’s title suggests, there is a lot of colour and spectrums of light – maybe the colour from God or the light that comes with hope?
Part of your heart looks for that answer and bonds with our man as your body and blood rushes and reacts to the endless kick of the composition. It is a brilliant blend of heartfelt and intriguing lyrics and a popping, flowing composition. Those beats get the head nodding whilst the hero lays down his mandates. As the song progresses, that core message is reinstated a number of times. The hero wants to know whether he can be seen and heard. That kaleidoscope is there and out; he is looking for connection and recognition. From me viewpoint, I see the song as a declaration in terms of music and intent. The Loops EP 1 is filled with ecumenical insight and faithful dedication; it broadens to investigate identity issues and life around. Here, I feel there is a coming-together or all the ideas expressed throughout the E.P. In Kaleidoscope, one hears a man looking for attention and asking those questions. Perhaps the true nature is known only to him but that is the beauty of the song: you can come to your own conclusion and do not get spoon-fed the meanings. I thoroughly enjoyed the song and being introduced to a talent unlike any other out there. Bonding with Jay Picasso and Starcity Studios, you have a song that jumps from the speakers but has that allure, subtlety and intelligence. If that electronic-percussive pairing does not remain in your head for weeks you might have to see a neurologist – to see if there is anything working away behind the ears! The lead vocal has heart and honesty but so many different emotions working away. A stunning song that perfectly ends Eye High’s debut E.P.
Every week, there is someone new before me I am charged with assessing and representing. Normally, it is the music that remains; the enduring and abiding takeaway is the music only. With Eye High, it is the music AND backstory that strikes me. He has such a vivid and different heritage – from the subjects I have reviewed – and is someone who interests me greatly. I know the E.P. is here and it suggests, from the ‘EP 1’ part of the title, there is more work to come. I will be interesting to see how he develops and what material does arrive. Whether he puts out any new music this year has yet to be seen but he will be keeping busy. Let’s hope, in the coming weeks, he pushes his portfolio more on Facebook; spreads it out and gives us something else – even if it is a bit more detail/photos on the Facebook account. I am always keen to promote the best artists out there and most of that stems from social media – using that as a platform to spread the word, as it were. I am sure that will all come but it is exciting watching an artist build his platform bit-by-bit. Of course, his IMMIGRANTS and Picasso are behind him; there is a steady fanbase on Twitter and it seems like that will continue to rise throughout the year. Again, with regards images – the lack thereof accounts for the rather limited visual spread – will come and one wonders whether a South London-set shoot will arrive. The more E.P.s that come, naturally, the more venues and spots that will come calling. Eye High is someone who deserves an in-depth interview. Getting the man on the microphone talking about his family; the importance of London and what role his faith plays in regards his music. That fascination will extend to venues who will be keen to book him.
Being based in South London, there is a wealth of availability on his doorstep. From Brixton to Clapham through to Peckham – there are those spots young artists can ply their trade. Given Eye High’s story and musical statement; you know there are so many, as-yet-uninitiated primed for recruitment. I am going to keep an eye on him and see how he develops in the coming months. It would be good to see that social media outlay go from what it is to a bit more ‘bulky’. The fact IMMIGRANTS are represented on Twitter too is a good step – it is an important website that can get music and messages out to the people fast. Identity is important to every person: it is who you are and where you came from. To Eye High, it is more complex and challenging than most. He is, as I have said, a second-generation immigrant and has seen his family move from Asia to London and integrated themselves in a new community. Eye High has taken to the London scene and seems settled where he is. Of course, there are those doubts about identity and where his family herald. It is confusing leaving a country/continent and starting a new life. Whilst the nature of identity can cause questions and doubts; I feel Eye High has used his roots and past to create something positive – in terms of his music and IMMIGRANTS. One wonders, when thinking about IMMIGRANTS, if more talent will come into the fold. The, at the moment, trio are a solid base but one imagines there are similar artists around London – those who might be displaced or want to share a story like Eye High’s. You get an insight into the man and his situation in Kaleidoscope: his debut E.P. expands on that and highlights him as a bold, daring and impressively enduring talent. The music, once experienced, is the sort you want to keep coming back to and obsess over.
Immigration is a subject that can provoke a lot of tension and debate. In the wider world, and the U.S. especially, it is dividing the nation. We all see the news and the images unfolding: those seeking refuge in safe harbours risking their lives to escape conflict. Wars and fighting are as prevalent and inextinguishable as ever; a world content to kill its own for no sensible reason. Because of this, ordinary humans are taking evasive action and going to extraordinary lengths to stay alive. The sheer concept and reality is one most of us will never understand. Perhaps Eye High’s family had a safer and less troubling road to the U.K. but they moved for a reason – that need for a better life and opportunity. Whatever form it takes – leaving a war-torn nation or looking for a better life – it is a subject that will always provoke response. One can attribute the uncoupling from the E.U. on that very thing – the public unwilling to allow others into this country. Aside from the majority-vote being based on racism – even if those who wanted to leave the E.U. claim that was not their motivation – immigration is much more complex than we can imagine. Look at Eye High’s second-generation immigration status and you can see a man wrestling with his identity. His family’s Asian/Muslim heritage has been transplanted to Britain: in a country where life is very different; at a time when there is a lot of misunderstanding about the Muslim community and those who pose a danger to our people. We are not as insane and narrow-minded as Donald Trump but there is a small faction who hold those beliefs – Muslims responsible for terrorism and all the violence you see on the news. It is hard to place myself in Eye High’s shoes but one imagines he carries around conflicting questions and a certain burden. Whilst searching for identity is a hard thing to bear; he channels this into terrific, original music. In addition to that, IMMIGRANTS is a positive movement that recognises that slightly transitory/unplanted status and puts it into creative work.
Religion and spirituality are, as I explained, normally reserved to particular genres of music. Of course, there is Christian-Rock, Soul and Gospel music where you can hear artists create paens to their faith and God. In a sense, even in 2017, there is a bit of a stigma when it comes to overt religious expression. I am not sure why but you are hearing it less and less. Every now and then, you’ll hear little mentions of God and religion in mainstream songs but, mainly, it is reserved for the side-lines. It gets me back to that point of equality in music and making changes. The same way women are struggling for chances and a voice in music: we can say the same of those artists from different backgrounds. Being a Muslim artist in modern music is never going to be as smooth as easy as you’d hope. Eye High is seducing with his music but one wonders, by virtue of his religion and race, he will get the same platforms and exposure as his peers. I hope he has not faced too much discrimination but you can imagine there has been some. It seems a shame there are these walls in an industry, which should you’d think, be more all-encompassing and less oppressive than the world in general. I am not sure how long it will be until we see effective change come about. Let’s hope it’s soon because, as it is, so many great artists are suffering. Out of this, potentially, hard background (having that immigrant background), Eye High is inspiring others to recognise their place and roots and do something positive. Yes, it is will be a longer and harder road for him; that is not stopping his output. Kaleidoscope is a brilliant offering from an E.P. with so many different ideas and stories working alongside one another. There will be plenty more work to come and it will be exciting to see how Eye High develops. Given the changing face of British society and the divisions occurring; the anti-Muslim sentiment in U.S. politics and a general unease that pervades – maybe there is that chance to create a counter-movement and musical governance. Many people hate the way things are unfolding and what is happening to the world: can artists like Eye High use their voice and talent to speak up and bring the sensible minority together? It is worth thinking about and I will be curious to see if this comes to fruition.
Before I end the piece, I want to have a look at the Hip-Hop movement in Britain and importance of South London – ending it by tipping my hat to Eye High’s influences. S4U is a South London duo that creates dreamy R&B and are being tipped by some of the biggest publications in the capital. Dave, a rapper lauded and long-listed by BBC, is one of many Urban talent making waves in the current scene. On that ‘Sound of 2017…’ list, we saw Jorja Smith, Nadia Rose and RAY BLK (the eventual winner). Nadia Rose is from Croydon whilst Dave, nice and nearby, is showing what a variety and strength there is in South London. I looked at the different shades and cultures in different corners of London. There is a consensus and unity (across the city) but one finds certain genres and tastes popularised depending on what side of the river you walk. Maybe East and West London has that reputation for more mainstream music – Pop and Electronic together with Rock – whereas North and South are grittier and more Urban-based. This is, naturally, a generalisation but you cannot overlook the raw talent brimming from South London. Eye High is part of a community that not only supports one another – I hope that is the case – but is leading a bit of an Urban/Hip-Hop revival. To me, the first real explosion (modern) was back when The Streets and Dizzee Rascal emerged in 2002/2003. In the ensuing years, it has been a bit quieter and the quality has deteriorated a little. Some would say evolution takes time but there have been few leaders and groundbreakers competing in the last few years. Whilst there is not quite the equality you’d want in terms of genres – Hip-Hop and Urban still largely underground – the success and recognition of acts like Dave and RAY BLK are helping highlight the fantastic young artists who are talking about what’s REALLY happening. It is not just a straightforward, predictable form of Hip-Hop. As Eye High is showcasing: you can mix true and established Hip-Hop strands with Pop and, in doing so, reach a wider audience. We need to rely less on the overrated mainstream and the rather uninspiring messages coming through. I find, those artists who campaign away from the spotlight are much more compelling and promising. London is a natural epicentre for this explosion of young talent. Let’s hope this will continue for many years to come.
Okay, I have talked a lot about Eye High and where his music hails from. I’ll end this by bringing back in his influences and the importance in creating an original and impelling. As I type – I started this review with an invigorating soundtrack – I am listening to Missy Elliot and Pharrell Williams perform WTF (Where They From). It has that classic 1990s feel but is contemporary and fresh. It is the sort of song that motivates movement and a certain sense of expression. It has emotion and soul which is at-odds with a lot of the mainstream fare. In a way, Eye High’s Kaleidoscope reminds me of that: a track that, although a different beast, intrigues and gets the mind whirling. This comes from, in-part his community and streets, but, in a broader sense, the music he was raised on. Growing up in the U.K., that explosion of Britpop and glorious ‘90s music would have made a big impact. Blur and Oasis are influences and you can hear suggestions of both in the music. It is the U.S. idols that interest me. Michael Jackson, Wu Tang Clan and Tupac Shakur are name-checked by Eye High – almost the opposite of Oasis and Blur in terms of style and lyrical themes. You get the R&B-cum-Soul blends of The Fugees and their spirituality – perhaps one of the major influences in Eye High’s sound. In fact, most of the American influences, in some way, incorporate their faith into the music. They do this without being solely concerned with praising God. In a way, their religion/faith is the backdrop to songs about their lives and their tribes. Eye High continues this and effortlessly blends U.K. and U.S. tastes into something extraordinary. It is that inclusion of Nusrat Fateh Khan that continues to fascinate me. It may seem strange to obsess but I have not featured that many Muslim/Asian acts – few modern artists really mention him or continue his work. I can see interlink between Nusrat and Eye High. I mentioned Jeff Buckley earlier and a concert he performed in New York – where a patron bonded having attended the same gig. If you have not heard Qawwali music, it is hard to explain but has a meditative-exorcism quality that promulgated faith but that delivery is the key – the fast-flowing, fascinating performance. Syllables are emphasised whilst others are elongated or processed: it is more a sermon than singing, in a lot of ways. I have typed enough but will drill things down to a few sentences. I am pleased Eye High is coming through and part of a vanguard that looks set to change British music. Under the tutelage of Jay Picasso – and his IMMIGRANTS by his side – you hear a confident young man crafting incredible music. Kaleidoscope is as captivating and colourful as its title suggests. Loops EP 1 is a work I suggest you dive into and get closer to a young man keen to make a difference to the music world. With his latest song…
HE has done this with ease.
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