Celt Islam: From Bass Tapes to Dub Step

CELT ISLAM DOES NOT MINCE HIS WORDS. That’s the first thing you need to know. The second is: no matter how much you hate Dubstep – it’s likely you’ll walk away feeling at least some sort of predilection for it. Why? Because Dubstep’s been mostly shit for a while – either that or a lot people just enjoy saying that. Anyway – Celt Islam just makes it sound better. A bit. He returns to Camden’s Inspiral Lounge this weekend; bringing some Sufi sounds interwoven with transitional dub step and bass music. 

Celt Islam at Over the Moon Festival (2012)

Celt Islam at Over the Moon Festival (2012)

Member of UK dub/bass bands, Nine Invisibles and Analogue Fakir – Celt Islam has collaborated with Dawoud Kringle and works with Fun Da Mental co-founder, Inder ‘Goldfinger’ Mantharoo, who has played tabla for the likes of Ian Brown and Transglobal Underground sister, Natacha Atlas. His latest EP, Primal Man features more than a decade of rare old school jungle and drum n bass [with Goldfinger, Peppery and Rah Kamelion].

The artist originates from the bass tape generation of the 80s. So he’s essentially studied with the grandfather of Trap, Glitch and Dubstep – and could most likely teach a few spotty, gold-chain-wearing, ketamine-loving pubescents a thing or two. 

With his own ethnic take, he has in some ways, revolutionised the Dubstep sound. While hardly to his detriment, it’s kinda left him on the outskirts of the diehard circles made of a young testosterone-fuelled crowd – probably for being too chilled. 

On the other hand, he’s not chilled enough for the ambient crowd – not that he’s bothered about such things. This however, is changing, particularly in light of last year’s performance at Ozora’s so-called Alternative Stage. The artist walks a fine line though, but the whole Dubstep thing is no doubt a natural and logical progression from those bass tape days.  

The Sufi dubster

The Sufi dubster

A proud English-Sufi-Muslim, Celt Islam is Muhammad Abdullah Hamza. Abdullah’s artist name was given by close friend and fellow musician, Mick Reed, during a studio session with band, The Nine Invisibles. “I was going to be DJing before the show as a warm up and we were having a laugh and giving each other DJ names, until Mick said ‘Celt Islam! that’s you! Celtic by orgin and Islam by faith.’  

“I liked this idea because so many people look at Islam as being some foreign import or some weirdo religion that has no connection to being a European. My aim was always to show folks Islam is universal and that Islam was not a culture or some obscure “religion”. Far from it, for me Islam is the primordial path of enlightenment and a natural life transaction between human beings and the creator of all.”

Some draw parallels to the artist, Muslimgauze, aka Bryn Jones, who in his own way, also embraced Islam and happened to be of Mancunian descent. Muslimgauze was no doubt an influence for Abdullah, as was Rootsman and his own band, the Nine Invisibles – all three of which he describes as ‘the background of underground, alternative dance music and world fusion.” 

Set against heavy baselines and a real ‘dubby world music sound’ – Sufi, Dub Step, Electro, Drum n bass and Dancehall have become powerful tools for this old-school anarchist to project socio-political messages. He’s done so under track titles such as Borderless World, Uprising, Gaza, Justice, Infitada and others on albums: Dervish, Baghdad, Al Mizan and Urban Sutra [Earthcity Records]. 

The Bandcamp site describes the album as as “a beautiful album of oriental electronic music…” and that “Baghdad, in itself a provocative title, pinpoints at a once vibrant cultural and intellectual centre that was levelled by American-led occupation.” 

He says: “I want depth, meaning, originality and inward-outward enlightenment that is political and spiritual – the balance we Sufis calls A Mizan. That is the primordial state of the human being.”  

At Glastonbury (2010)

At Glastonbury (2010)

“I remember the Pyramid Stage with huge CND [Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament] and Ban the Bomb signs. Glasto used to be [political]. In fact most used to be in the 70s and 80s, until [festivals] turned being a dreddy hippy with spiritual and political views into a fashion, and all depth removed, and now just an empty shell.”

In 2010, Celt Islam played at the Glastonbury Festival with the Palestinian flag on full display. He was was followed around the festival for a BBC documentary. This year, he’s in the process of making plans for his own version of  Glastonbury with the festival, ‘Oneness,’ which is about “showing folks that being psychedelic doesn’t mean the same tempo, key, baseline and drop 4-4 beat that goes nowhere except a slightly different direction!”

Flyer for Oneness Festival in Glastonbury

Flyer for Oneness Festival in Glastonbury

“Music is a mathematical, visceral, and psych-spiritual microcosm of the universe; as is humanity,” he says. 

“It is extraordinarily powerful and at the same time subtle. Most people are totally unaware of its nature and possibilities. It’s power is, in its primordial form, morally neutral. Human intention and application make it either beneficial or destructive. Music is much more than just sound, for me my music is a small manifestation of who and what I am as a Human being.”

Being filmed by the BBC at Glastonbury (2010)

Being filmed by the BBC at Glastonbury (2010)

Artists that refuse to speak out for what they believe in – or who sell out for the sake of losing bookings, fans or popularity are a plenty. That’s why there are not so many in the world like Celt Islam: never afraid to speak out for what he believes in; refusing to give into the fear of being judged or unaccepted in the name of fame and fortune. A critical thinker, yet non-judgement. Grounded yet outspoken. 

So how does he handle the response as an artist who wears Islam on his sleeve while making strong political statements through music? 

Random jam session with band being filmed by BBC (Glastonbury 2010)

Random jam session with band getting filmed by BBC (Glastonbury 2010)

“I get a whole mix bag of goodies – from folks loving the idea of me – to folks giving me threats and foul attacks (laughs). It’s to be expected these days when folks are more bothered about their egos than the serious issues that faces us all as human beings. The great Sufi master Rumi said “Appear as you are, be as you appear!” This is the very foundation of my daily life!

“If people accept me or not, that’s not my concern – each to their own judgements and paths. As for political issues, well, folks who know me well, know that I’m a passionate man who stands against oppression and that I’m with the poor and the oppressed and that’s where my heart shall always remain: if that offends people, so be it. As a Human being – never mind being an artist – I feel we all have an obligation to protect all human life at all costs, hence why I’m also a strong believer in peace and not war.”

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