2017 Review: A Year of Blessings and Confirmations

2017 was an amazing year in my journey as an artist and human being! So amazing that I wanted to write up a little blog to share all the cool experiences that God sent my way :). Here’s a little summary of the major highlights!

The Wizdome Album

My sophomore album! I spent much of 2016 working on the album (writing, fundraising, recording) and 2017 was the year to get the music out to the world! In February, I had an official release show – which was OFF THE HOOK! It was a huge milestone for me, and I was totally humbled by the amount of love and support I received from my community.

Throughout the rest of 2017, I was privileged to perform in a variety of venues, and many of my performances featured tracks from the Wizdome album (see more below under “Performances”).

Music Videos

For the past few years, I’ve tried to release a couple of music videos per year, using my favorite song creations. 2015 featured Change the World and Paradigm (both Colby and Awu collaborations). In 2016, I released a music video for Oh Yaran (7 Years), a collaboration with Russian singer, Emphavoice, and was also featured on God Is Here, an interlingual collaboration with Persian rapper, Pouya.

This year, the stream of videos continued, with three official music video releases. In April, I released a video for Wizdome, the feature track from my most recent album. Interestingly, Wizdome is my first, and only, solo music video project to date. It was shot around Phoenix, and features a couple of dope murals around the city that connected to the theme of the song.

In June (on my birthday, in fact!) I released the music video for The Movement, another Colby and Awu production. We actually had shot the video back in December of 2014, at the same time we shot Change the World and Paradigm, but due to some complications with the song production, we didn’t have the finished audio product until the end of 2016! We decided to release it in June as to not compete with our other solo video releases.

The final video release of the year came on October 22, 2017, which was the 200 year anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith. To commemorate the day, the project team and I released a music video for Treasure, which is an ode to Baha’u’llah. The video was shot over two weekends in August, with the majority of the footage being filmed in Southern California. This was such a fun, and intense project!

Performances

The area that I feel I progressed the most in 2017 is definitely in live performance! Over the past couple of years, I had gained experience performing at open mics and a few other relevant events here and there, but this year I had a steady stream of performances all year round.

As already stated, I hosted an album debut for Wizdome in February, which was a whole new area of capacity building for me. Not only did I perform, but I had to coordinate the whole event (book the venue, book my DJ – shout out to DJ Muchacho Mike!, manage invitations and promotion, coordinate ticket sales, manufacture and sell merch, organize a set list with guest artists, brainstorm and facilitate additional event activities, and lots more!). It was definitely the most labor intensive performance of my life, but also the most rewarding! I can’t wait to host more of my own music events in the near future! 

In addition to the album debut, I also had the pleasure of performing my music and poetry at numerous other venues around Phoenix, the country, and even internationally! In January, I was invited to speak, as well as perform Education Is Not A Crime DREAMix as a spoken word piece at Camelback High School for the students in their AVID program. Later in the same month, I performed the DREAMix as a song with my good friend and featured artist, Ileana Salinas, at a community healing and arts gathering hosted by local non-profit organizations, Aliento and Puente.

February was the month of the Wizdome album debut, but I also had the honor of performing that month at Wilson Elementary School, after being invited by their National Junior Honor Society students. I performed Change the World and The Movement as part of the NJHS induction, alongside several other inspiring musical performances and speakers.

In April, I was invited by the City of Mesa Human Relation Advisory Board’s Youth Diversity Education team to serve as the keynote speaker and performer for their Youth Peace Building Summit. I shared some thoughts on peace, inspired from the materials of the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (which I LOVE!) and performed Change the World and The Movement to get the youth pumped to build peace!

Shortly after, in early May, I was invited to perform for a huge crowd of 1,200 6th graders from the Paradise Valley School District (which I’m a product of!). It was for the #itsyourturn2023 event hosted at North Canyon High School. The focus was on inspiring a vision for the 6th graders to graduate high school in 2023, and to become agents of change and positivity. Another one-two-punch of Change the World and The Movement got the 6th graders hyped! I loved their energy!

The end of May brought another incredible opportunity! Awu and I were invited to spend a week at International School Manila in the Philippines in a week packed with performances, talks, and tons of fun with the students! It was actually our first time ever performing together outside of Cameroon! The major highlight of the the trip was our epic performance of Change the World accompanied by 450 middle-school choir and orchestra students, for an audience of 1000+ students, parents, and school officials. I was totally taken aback! We also performed with their elementary school choir, ISM Sing, which was adorable! They had us serve as the keynote speakers and performers for the end-of-year Advocate for Change program held for their 8th grade student body. We also had several impromptu performances in several of the school’s music classes, as well as a mini-concert during one of their lunch sessions. The students were so enthusiastic and welcoming! Awu and I were overjoyed with how much fun we had performing and interacting with the youth. Hoping for another opportunity like this to come soon!

Upon my return to the U.S. in June, I helped facilitate a youth mentor training for the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, and during the training program, the youth and I created some fresh music! One of the evenings during the training, I was invited to perform at a local Race Unity Day event at the Scottsdale Baha’i Center, and so I had to bring the youth along so we could perform our new song! I’m hoping the tracks we made will one day find their way onto an official album…

Mid-June I was invited to perform at Memorial Hall for a local World Refugee Day event. I performed Change the World, as well as Light of Unity, accompanied by my friend Ileana. It was humbling to share the songs with such a beautiful tapestry of human beings from all over the world who all live right here in Phoenix.

The summer continued with blessings! In July I was invited to perform at Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center for one of their Sunday services. Their congregation was amazing! So supportive, enthusiastic, welcoming, and spiritual! Another performance of Change the World and Light of Unity, this time accompanied by my friend Ariana!

August brought another adventure and huge milestone! I received an invitation to perform in New York at the International Youth for Human Rights Summit, hosted by the United Nations! I had the privilege of performing for young human rights activists from all over the world – it was so humbling! I performed Change the World and The Movement, and the crowd loved it! I got so much love and encouragement afterwards!

I ended August with another new experience and milestone, performing as an opener at the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix for local artist Myrlin, at his Born Day Bounce. He is an artist I really admire and look up to for his high quality, conscious art, as well as his work with youth in the community as a teaching artist. It was definitely an honor to share the stage with him, and all the other amazing artists who performed at the event!

September 21st brought the International Day of Peace. I received an invitation to share a song for peace at the Breathe for Peace Concert for Humanity hosted at the Unexpected Art Gallery in Downtown Phoenix, which I gladly accepted! There was an amazing collection of poets, dancers, musicians, speakers, and advocates for peace that gathered to commemorate the day. I performed Change the World, which fit perfectly into the program!

October was a whirlwind! The Treasure Crew and I had made a plan to release our Treasure music video on October 22nd to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah. We also brainstormed on how else we could use our music to celebrate the occasion, and we decided to embark on a mini music tour leading up to the event! The tour actually began on September 8th, with a performance, video screening, and music workshop at Macy’s Coffeehouse in Flagstaff; however, the rest of the tour took place in October.

The first weekend in October, the Treasure Crew and I travelled to Denver, Colorado and Albuquerque, New Mexico where we performed at two house concerts, as well as a Sikh Langar event we were invited to at the Denver State Capitol. The second weekend we departed to San Diego and San Clemente, California to perform at a couple of Baha’i gatherings, near by where the music video was shot. The third weekend of October was the time of the Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah celebrations, where we performed in six separate celebrations, stopping through Phoenix, Laveen, Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, and Tempe, Arizona!

By the end of the tour, the crew and I had developed a really solid set list of songs, as well as an overall concert/performance flow. We’re all stoked to continue performing together! The final week in October, I was invited to perform at the Wilson Elementary School Getting Arizona Involved in Neighborhoods (GAIN) event, where I performed Youth Can Move the World with my dudes Jose Maria and Kishan.

November brought a couple more spiritually-infused performances. Jose Maria and I performed Change the World and Light of Unity at the Evening of Light event hosted by the Arizona Interfaith Movement. The Treasure Crew and I made another stop in our region – this time to the Native American Baha’i Institute on the Navajo Land – in order to share our music at the Light of Unity Arts and Music Festival. It was a beautiful space with music, food, crafts, and other fun activities. The crew and I performed Treasure, Light of Unity, Change the World, and Youth Can Move the World, while I also performed Wizdome and Don’t Look at Me solo.

The momentum continued through the month of December, with a couple of more soul-filling events! Jose Maria and I received an invitation to perform at the Souls Unfolding New Humanity Church, where we shared a few tracks, including a new collaboration – a remix of Spiritual Revolutionary, a song originally written by one of my favorite artists, Karim Rushdy. The end of the month brought the Grand Canyon Baha’i Conference, where Kishan, Jose Maria, and myself closed out one of the evening programs for an audience of several hundred attendees.

All-in-all, it was an amazing year for performances! Through all the performances this year, my music was able to reach several thousand people, quite a feat! I’m really happy and amazed at how far I’ve come on this journey as an artist, and I look forward to continue trekking towards new horizons in 2018!

Press & Media

Over the course of the year, I also received a few noteworthy mentions in the press and media outlets. After my trip with Awu to the Philippines, I was blessed to receive an interview with Channel 12 News about my experience. The interview happened to take place during the middle of a Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program training I was facilitating, so they also asked questions about my experience in the program here in Phoenix. The interview aired locally on TV, as well as through their online publication!

As the quality of my music has continued to rise, I’ve also received recognition and support from a couple of noteworthy Baha’i-inspired organizations. Baha’i Blog, one of the most popular Baha’i sites on the web, interviewed me about my new album Wizdome, and also featured a couple of my music videos on their website. Additionally, Wizdome is now being sold through 9 Star Media, the premier online distributor of Baha’i-inspired music. I’m honored to be part of the team!

Teaching Artist

Another area I’m excited to learn more about and pursue is teaching the art of rap and performance to others, specifically youth. It’s been such an amazing way for me to channel my creativity, explore profound subjects, express myself, connect and collaborate with others in my community and the world, and ultimately build positive change. I really love education, so naturally I find myself desiring to help others develop their capacity in this art form as well.

2017 brought a few really rewarding opportunities to build my capacity in the area of teaching and has me excited for the potential to pursue it more in 2018! Several of the experiences were included within events I hosted to share my music. For example, during my Wizdome Album Debut, I facilitated a short 10 minute rap-writing workshop in the middle of the program, prompting attendees to write a rap about a piece of wisdom they would like to share with the youth of the world. This workshop was followed by a 30 minute open mic, where anyone who wanted to share their piece on the microphone was given the opportunity. I was blown away with what was shared!

We used a similar event format all throughout the Treasure Tour, giving attendees a writing prompt, a short amount of time to create, and then an opportunity to perform their creations. The flow is so simple, yet the results have been so profound!

Over a few after-school sessions at Wilson Elementary with the National Junior Honor Society, Jose Maria and I also had the bounty of helping 7th and 8th grade students write their own human rights inspired raps. We took them through the process of writing a hook/chorus, and then the students grouped up to write their own verses. The group then performed their piece at a school assembly during the Getting Arizona Involved in Neighborhoods event. It was so awesome seeing them overcome their fears and get on the mic!

In late October, I facilitated a similar workshop with a group of community college educators at the National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar. One difference… this was over Skype! I wasn’t sure how it would go, but once again, I was amazed with the results! This group, which ranged from young adults in their 20’s to experienced professionals in their 50’s, was able to write and perform some incredible peace-inspired raps within a one hour session, even though most had virtually no experience rapping prior!

Jose Maria and I also facilitated a rap workshop at the Grand Canyon Baha’i Conference in December with about 60-70 middle schoolers, and had similar success drawing out their talents. They created raps based on a Baha’i quotation, and then performed them for the rest of the group. It’s so amazing seeing young people find their power of expression!

Looking Ahead to 2018

I’m super stoked to continue on my path as an artist this upcoming year! I’ve begun work on a new album, which I hope to release some time mid-year. I’ve also got a couple of music video ideas I hope to flesh out and produce at some point in 2018. I already have a few performances lined up for the beginning of the year, and plan to continue pursuing opportunities to share my music in spaces that align with my artistic mission. Finally, I’m really excited to continue working with young people to find their own power of expression using rap, and I have some exciting potential opportunities that I pray come to fruition!

P.S. – Baby Noble!!

Oh, and 2017 also brought my first born child, Noble, which was a million times more amazing than everything I just listed! Being a dad is so awesome! I love this little dude so much and I look forward to assisting him on his journey to discover his gifts and use them to serve humanity! Praise God :).

Thanks for taking the time to read about my year! I’d love to hear your thoughts, please share a comment below! 🙂

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