The pandemic would force the world indoors, prompting Stevenson-Howard to look for new ways to share his sound meditation techniques through a series of Zoom hosting sessions, which led him to making video and sound recordings to share with a wider audience. He would begin to travel to the continent of Africa frequently during this time, with each visit becoming more connected to the Motherland. Stevenson-Howard traveled to Senegal for the first time in September, 2022 and this trip would move him to become enraptured by the peaceful country, enthralled by its music, beauty, storytelling, and hospitality. Inspired by its fantastic beaches, extraordinary tropical forests, magnificent Sahara Desert and rich history, he would meet a collective of artists and community of collaborators who jumped at the idea of collaborating with him on his sound bowl recordings.
After some strategic planning and execution, collaborative recordings would take place in Senegal and Detroit and employ top-tier Senegalese musical artisans such as Kora player El Hadji Sora, Djembe player Khadim Badji and vocalist Sona Sanko. From those sessions would come the 9-song album “The Journey: Senegal.”
THE JOURNEY: SENEGAL – TRACK BY TRACK PORTAL TO THE INNER YOU
“The Journey: Senegal” is the full manifestation of Stevenson-Howard’s musical healing journey, the album meditations collectively chart a path of self-realization, the titles serving effectively as chapter headings to a story of how this sound meditation practitioner evolved into a music and healing visionary, becoming a beacon of enlightenment for others.
The album opens with “Ancestor Awakening,” [track 1], a warm inspirational call to rest. It’s an opening salvo that sets the tone for the entire album and is an affirmation to calm one’s spirit and soul through the warm, nurturing spirit of the African diaspora. It is essentially a nurturing hug from Africa, much like a mother’s nurturing hug of her young. “Toria” [track 2] is a dedication to Stevenson-Howard’s late, longtime friend Toria Martin who succumbed to cancer. He received word of her passing while he was in Senegal, on Goree Island at the House of Slaves. The song functions as a celebration of her life, light, and elevated humanity throughout her ordeal.
The third song “Bambara” [track 3] is a powerful awakening tool in Stevenson-Howard’s sound meditation tool kit that affirms peaceful living with knowledge and being there for your literal and figurative brothers and sisters. The song leads with gentle organic drums that symbolize the opening of the heart and suggests that one must look to the past to chart their present and future. The drums function as a soothsayer, mimicking the sounds and rhythm of a heartbeat equipping the listener to embrace the drums as a tool of energy, change and resistance.
“Astral” [track 4] takes inspirational cues from Pharoah Sander’s “Astral Traveling” and is an afro futurist’s meditation centered on manifestation through the transportation through time and space. Heavy on gong and heavy on sound bowls, the meditation suggests that to create happy spaces for oneself, you must get out of your body in order to forge deeper into your mind to go to places that are safe. If there are no safe spaces for black bodies on the earthly plane, happy memories and good times may exist elsewhere where time and space are malleable. There are hints of astral traveling and body projection as the track takes the listener to spaces that range from the cosmic to the deeply internal.
“Intentions” [track 5] is an empowerment tome set inside a reflective space that is centered on creating and maintaining mindfulness and intentionality. It is a power to be harnessed with the overarching message that before manifestation, there is intention. The sound bowls in this track take on a penetrating aural hue, piercing all the way to the marrow. It’s a whirling cacophony of sound, a space where goals, dreams, and passions are interpolated around a manifestation mindset. What do you want? How do you acquire those wants? What is blocking their acquisition? This is a song of formulation, purposeful action, and strategic intent. It empowers listeners to state / claim / reclaim achievable goals and desires by realizing that intent is a frequency to be tapped into.
“From Within” [track 6] is a full aural display of Senegal spoken in the Wolof language, the meditation is a reflection of the profound faith of the Senegalese people and is an incantation for universal peace. “Peace Onto You” [track 7] is a call to go back to the basics of loving your neighbor, protecting your community, preserving and empowering children. This is a meditational torch song that evokes images of beautiful Kora playing around an open fire and is grounded in the communal peace and prosperity of the family unit. A peace that can only be attained through a change of environment preceded by a change in mindset. The peaceful mindset is articulated by the Wolof lyrical refrain of “peace is what we wish, and peace should be wished.”
“Expansions” [track 8] is wholly inspired by a deep house track by electronic artist Scott Grooves featuring jazz and R & B icon Roy Ayers, which was a reimagining of the classic Lonnie Liston Smith tune. It is a jazz/house reference and a metaphor to expand your mind and heart while trusting yourself to maintain your path to wellness, abundance, and self-awareness. The heart, third eye and crown chakra meditation makes copious use of elemental ambient tools and features Stevenson-Howard’s voice ruminating on getting in touch with our inner-divinity so as to embrace a rested future, a black future.
“A Griot’s Call” [track 9], is an awakening to hear the call of the past. The instrumentation featured on the meditation transports listeners through the last 200-300 years of Senegalese history as the listener is invited to be transfixed by the journey.
MASTERWORK IS PART OF A GROWING MEDITATIONAL MUSIC MOVEMENT
At its core, ‘The Journey: Senegal” enjoys an intriguing duality – it gives aural snapshots of Senegal while also serving as a pathway to empower listeners through meditational methodologies. It stands at the far end of the continuum of “no songs, just vibes.” But is it a meditation album? Is it an Afrofuturist work? Is it spiritual or New Age? And the answer is yes – it is all that and MORE!
It’s a subtle yet daring masterwork approach grounded in Senegalese musical traditions and is a very digestible album with instruments that sound gorgeous, intentional, and simultaneous on purpose and by accident, all while accompanying inner journeys. With flickering Kora sounds, majestic sweeps of chimes, and sublime crescendos, it evokes a feeling of reflective awe while functioning as part of a practice that enhances mental health, stability, and centeredness.
This is a departure album in every sense of the word and is part of an emerging music and meditation movement fostered by artists who have recently released similar works such as Andre 3000 (New Blue Sun), or Jhene Aiko (Chilombo).
As the world opens back up (post-Covid global pandemic), there has been a re-emergence of cultural awareness and uprising as people embrace themes of empowerment with a view to expressing the full range of black power and pride – pride in looking black, sounding black and feeling black.
These sensibilities have manifested themselves in Stevenson-Howard’s aesthetic as his practice has taken him around the world as an avid global traveler, an award-winning visual artist and most recently in his crowning as a Hausa tribal chief in Nima-Accra, Ghana.
“The Journey: Senegal” is very much a product of Stevenson-Howard’s life work as it is an audio postcard from Senegal that draws from overlapping modalities that explore the intersection of the journey to the inner “you,” while healing the mind, body and spirit, one soul at a time.
If breathing without anxiety or stress in black bodies is a revolutionary act, then Stevenson-Howard is a revolutionary warrior of the highest order and this album is where the revolution begins, when you press play.
– Chris Campbell, 2023