I absolutely love discovering new Baha’i-inspired music from different parts of the world, and I was thrilled to hear about a new album from South Africa called The New Era, produced by Walied Jassat – also known as ‘WaJa’ – who’s based in Johannesburg.
The New Era is a collaborative album featuring different musicians and singers who have been working with Walied Jassat over the last few years and all songs are either based on the Baha’i Writings or are Baha’i-inspired.
I caught up with Walied to find out more about this wonderful new album and initiative:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background?
Before I discovered the Baha’i Faith I was a lone ranger, a seeker, questioning everything, believing nothing, and during that time of confusion and faithlessness music was my religion and source of positive values and inspiration. I was also learning to play the guitar and it was my thing, my something, that kept me sane. And then I went on a backpacking adventure travelling up East Africa and round about India, and eventually settled in Jaipur and was taking Sitar lessons. I visited New Delhi to renew my visa and visited the Lotus Temple, Baha’i House of Worship, and… well lets just say… my heart unfurled like a lotus flower, and my life was never the same again. I continued my study of the Baha’i Faith and joined the local community in Johannesburg when I got back home.
The beauty and love of Baha’u’llah and the supportive nurturing community helped lift my spirits and brighten my soul, and a flood of creativity surged through me, beautiful melodies and songs, but yet I was too inhibited and nervous to perform my music for others. I tried a few times with disastrous consequences. My sister also learnt to play and was writing even better songs and was more confident and so we experimented with recording on some very basic equipment. I also got to know very talented musicians around the country who were similarly inspired by the Baha’i Faith and its magical poetic writings.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell me how this album came about and what was the inspiration behind it?
One day I met a young Baha’i friend from the U.S., Danny Wolverton, now known as “Special Head” who was passing through my city, Johannesburg, who asked to meet with someone in the community who was musically inclined. We met and struck up a friendship and then conceived a project. He was travelling through Africa with his little recording device and two high quality mics capturing authentic african songs for posterity, and he was on his way to deposit them in Grahamstown University in South Africa. So our plan was that Danny would travel around Southern Africa and record these singer songwriters, and that he did, 10 songs with 10 different Baha’i artists, in two weeks and that was our first project dETACHED&UnpluggeD. When he got back we downloaded Ableton Live software and edited and mixed the songs together and produced this simple CD. It was raw and amateurish but sincere and fun, and people loved it. And this was my lead into the wonderful world of music production.
I was then invited to serve at the National Baha’i Centre as its treasury manager and the offer included a nice little two bedroom apartment. I resigned from my day job as a civil engineering quality manager and moved in, and began my service but also started setting up a basic home studio. I researched on the internet about equipment and gear, read countless forums and when i started recording i was amazed at the high quality that I was getting. Being at the Baha’i centre was very cool cos there were so many activities and there were so many inspiring people constantly in and out, and so I got to meet alot of them and would drag anyone with musical talent into my humble little studio and they would leave me with a very basic raw recording. I remember some very special times when people shared their original compositions, or created something new right there. I would sometimes add other instruments, and get other artists to add vocal parts or harmonies or rap or something and the songs just started growing and coming together. During our teaching activities in a nearby neighbourhood I met some other aspiring musicians and tapped into a whole network of young musicians, rappers, vocalists and they started coming to the Baha’i centre and recording and also interacting with the Baha’is, making friends, and catching the vibes. We dropped our first collab album/mixtape entitled “Edge of the World” by bahaisonthemic, which again was kind of raw because we were all still learning, but it was well received and people enjoyed these good vibes. It represented the diversity in blending different genres and styles.
I continued working on individual artists songs and albums but started to see that another collaboration album/mixtape was taking shape. I decided to showcase the variety of positive inspiring artists that have been recording with me during this time, over the past few years, and so this is a kind of a cross section of what I have been doing, and also a slice of my life, so many beautiful stories and memories woven into these songs.
Baha’i Blog: What was the experience like for everyone involved and what’s the response from the community been like so far?
There are so many amazing artists but three of them who have played the biggest role I would say are Nicola Brescia a master composer and director of the Jhb Baha’i Choir from whom I have learnt so much about musical performance and production. Dominique Sylvester whose acoustic guitar driven songs with simple, catchy but heartfelt vocals really always inspires me and lifts my spirits, everyones actually. Dexters Mlambo who is a true poet of great depth and intense rapper of incredible versatility. There artistry is all over this album, but the beauty of it was really how everyone added parts to each others work… “Light of Unity” is many people’s favorite track on the album and it was a joy to facilitate and construct this wonderful song. The memory behind it is of the night before my daughter Jasmine was born, my dear friend Farzam Ehsani asked me to record him singing a tribute to his mom, he played the piano and sang this song as we looked over the beautiful city lights… I knew that this song would one day become a spiritual anthem!
At the September International Youth Conference we played the songs and the youth absolutely loved it. I have received very encouraging and loving messages from people in different parts of the world who are enjoying these tracks, and that just makes it all worthwhile. From the heart of the artist, through his hands and vocal chords, into the mic and digital domain, it emerges again through speakers attached to various kinds of devices all over the world, makes its way through eardrums and brains back to the heart! It’s amazing, I love it!!! It’s all vibration and someone, out there, is inspired by the Word of God.
Baha’i Blog: Why Did you call the album “The New Era”?
The title “The New Era” came to me naturally, I wanted something that represented looking forward and focussing on the positive, something fresh and vibrant, and so I thought of the first Baha’i book I ever read. It was back in India after returning from New Delhi to Jaipur, I looked up the only public library in the city and found it after an arduous search, and didn’t hold out much hope of finding any Baha’i book there cos it was a small dusty little place with ancient furniture and vast thick volumes on towering shelves. The librarian was busy and couldn’t understand me and pointed to a shelf with the cards, and a I went up to it and pulled out the one marked “B” and stuck my finger somewhere in the middle of the draw full of probably a hundred stacked cards and flipped it back, and ‘lo and behold’ the card that faced me was titled “Baha’u’llah and The New Era” by J Esslemont. This was a big confirmation for me, God had spoken to me through life and told me that I was on the right track, and I enjoyed that book like nothing before. The New Era is for me a great possibility and vision of a world without war and hate, suffering and poverty, a world characterised by love and freedom!
Baha’i Blog: So what’s the journey been like so far?
So yeah its been an amazing journey, and now that the album is out I’m focussing more on the video series. I decided to also tell the stories behind the music too, and started the video series I12BF3.org, which is interfaith, or rather, it has no agenda other than to inspire, glimmer and spread positive vibes… so working on that whenever I get a chance but my family is my first priority… our second was born three weeks ago, a beautiful baby boy, Rohan, a sweet little drop of heaven – holding him in my arm, as I type with the other.
Thanks to Baha’i Blog for helping to share it with more people. We would love to hear from the people out there, let us know what you think about The New Era.
Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview Walied and keep up the great work!
You can listen to and download The New Era and other albums produced by Walied here.