The Hum From The Hive: Issue 2

Buddies Building Songs 

Raef and I in 2013, during our days with The Poetic Vision Tour.

This month it was delightful reconnecting with my buddy Raef, the Maryland USA based singer/songwriter, currently hard at work on a new album to follow-up his 2014 release “The Path”.

Raef and I met over fifteen years ago when he was a high school student, researching a class project on the human voice.   Connecting by phone, we discussed back-stage warm-up techniques as well as ways of honing, exercising and preserving one’s vocal chords.  Years later, after he had taught himself to play guitar, completed college and gone on to successful careers in software engineering and teaching, Raef and I met again.   His secret identity as a travelling, week-end musician saw us team up to strum and sing our way around the USA with a host of other artists on The Poetic Vision Tour.  In 2013, Raef took a hiatus from teaching and began to dedicate himself full-time to the age-old occupation of Songsmith.

Now, travelling internationally (with an overwhelming support base in Asia) Raef’s infectious songs and smile have made him a social media sensation, without throwing a speck of dust on his sweet demeanour.  His passion for people and hope for humanity have even ushered him into the role of loveable host for three seasons (and counting!) of the Indonesian, human interest/travel program “The Journey of a Backpacker”.

During the last few weeks, Raef and I toyed with some new song ideas for his upcoming album.  It felt so good to be tossing demos back and forth again with a young fellow who, over the years, has taught me so much about embracing life to the fullest ~ and always with joy and consistent thankfulness.

Catch Raef’s music here  and keep an ear to the ground for his new album, due out later this year.

Production Agreement Signed With Sound Vision

Ah, the old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Case in point: My official handshake with Sound Vision this month, agreeing to work with them over the next year on several projects, including a catalog of new children’s songs.

Twenty five years ago, the educational multimedia company Sound Vision supported me in the release of my early English language “nasheed” collections.  They took my home-spun songs to families around the world, with dedicated distribution in the UK, Canada, the USA and South Africa.  It was a time when few other studio recordings of spiritual hymns were available to English-speaking Muslims.  For the following decade I worked as an audio director for the Chicago based company, producing songs, narratives and soundtracks used in countless programs, albums, games and documentaries.   Being a part of the Sound Vision family, it was also a privilege for me to witness the birth of exciting spin-off initiatives like Radioislam and Toronto’s Muslimfest, both still going strong.

When I first brought my self-produced album “A Whisper of Peace” to Sound Vision in 1995, they were one of only two reputable, Muslim managed media producers in North America.  With a focus toward children’s education, they were a natural fit to distribute my folksy songs among families and schools looking for creative materials providing more than just entertainment to their youngsters and students.

In years that followed, Muslim record labels began springing up all over the world, providing religious and cultural alternatives to secular music, but generally aiming the songs and images of their “stars” toward teens and young adults.  Alongside the rapidly growing niche of “Muslim pop music” (akin to the Christian-pop scene) sadly, came trappings of the commercial music market that were unfavourable to both Sound Vision as an educational media producer, and to me as an artist rooted in the “community” or “folk music” tradition.

In 2005 I stepped aside from annual album releases and moved overseas to write, reflect, reassess, record independently and begin raising a family.  Sound Vision maintained it’s focus on education ~ successfully carrying on with tremendous bridge building initiatives between faith communities and also became an active player in the peace and justice movement.

We continued to support each others’ ongoing projects, all the while watching new media companies tragically rise and fall with the trends of the times.

Now ~ here we are in 2018:

Sound Vision ~ still remaining devoted to the peace and justice movement…still dedicated to the ongoing production and free distribution of educational materials for families.

Quirky little me ~ still writing songs, still singing with small grass-roots community groups world-wide, and still hopeful that, if more of us sing out for change, we will see a shift for the better in how our world functions.

Children of Muslim families in English-speaking countries ~ Still in need of mentorship.  Struggling, more than ever, with their understandings of faith, religion, identity, justice and community due to the heinous acts of others around the world, claiming erroneously to also be “Muslim”.

And Muslim media producers:  Of the few that still exist, only a small fraction working to provide quality materials for young children that will go beyond the trends of today to stand the test of time and be relevant in another twenty years.

What better time for Sound Vision and I to get back to work at producing more videos, songs and stories?   Many projects have been discussed and are in the planning stages.   We look forward to sharing them with a new generation of children ~  maybe even those with parents and grandparents who watched  our videos or sang along with our songs when they were young!

A New Book With An Old Friend

Once again my old friend Zain Bhikha and I are up to musical mischief.

Over in South Africa, Zain is busily working away on a new album, having also just released a delightful video called “Cotton Candy Sky“.  He’s asked me to join him on a song for the forthcoming release and has been most patient with my recording studio delays, due to the crazy travel schedule I have been keeping these past few months.

During the decades of our friendship, there have been several consistent jests between us:

From my perspective ~ Zain is a charitable fellow who (through pity of my lesser fame)  lets me ride on the turban tail of his international success by coaxing me to appear in his videos, sing on his albums, join his tours or make TV appearances with him.

From Zain’s perspective ~ he brings me on board his projects as a dear brother and friend, but accuses me of rarely ask him to sing on my albums because [he says], I “…secretly do not want to sing with him.”

Well, as Zain taps his foot in anticipation ~ patiently awaiting my vocal tracks for yet another new Bhikha Studios release ~ it is my pleasure to now prove him wrong!

Kube Publishing in the United Kingdom, have agreed to help me finish up a new book for release in 2019.  The follow-up to A Whisper of Peace, Colours of Islam and A Picnic of Poems will also be a book/CD package, but this time around, I will be joined on vocals by Zain Bhikha!

The new collection will be an anthology of songs dealing with daily Muslim prayers  and activities that occur between them.   Though a few old “Zain & Dawud” favourites will be included, the majority of material featured will be new to families and children.  The accompanying song CD will feature Zain and I singing in those close harmonies that many request us to do when we perform together at live events.

Over the years, Zain and I have recorded five or six songs together ~ admittedly, with all but one of them being on his albums.   This new book/CD I’m pulling together will feature nine new duet tracks.  Count `em!  NINE!  Seems like I am up by five duets Mr. Bhikha!

Zain, tell me honestly: Is it perhaps, that you secretly don’t want to sing with me on your albums old friend? 😉  (P.S. ~ I’ll get you those new vocal tracks you need just as soon as I possibly can.)

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