At 28, Asaan Brooks, better known in the music world as Swamburger, speaks with a charisma not unlike that found in great leaders. His eyes light up when he talks about the "movement."
I'm not here to talk about the "movement," though. The original topic of discussion -- and reason I'm here -- is one of the groups that Swamburger's in, Sol.illaquists of Sound. But the "movement" is more critical to him, and somehow the two are tied together. The rest of the band (and a few of their friends) are here, too, and even their thoughts are on the "movement." As they see it, Sol.illaquists as a group is merely a vehicle for the "message" of the "movement," which they will use to "change the world." Swamburger compares Sol.illaquists to the ancient Egyptians, only they are "building pyramids out of sound instead of building blocks," he says.
Neither the message nor the movement can be defined in one word or sentence, and determining the role of Sol.illoquists in the movement (or vice-versa) is equally challenging.
In an attempt to clarify things, Swamburger shows me a short, low-budget documentary. Filmed earlier this year by Elizabeth ("Lizzie") Anne, it's called "Writes of Passage" (after the name the movement ascribed to its regular meetings). In the film, Swamburger stands outside Culture Mart, the small retail shop he runs downtown, and says, "I received messages within my dreams ... that stimulated me to create this movement. ... We didn't want to be noticed as a crew; we wanted to be noticed as a family. And within that family, we could build this structure of, whether it be stores ... culture, respect, love -- what have you."
Is this a hip-hop version of a '60s hippie haven, serenading each other with love-and-peace ballads? Actually, with the emphasis on veganism, love and creating a "family," some parallels exist. But this group shuns all drugs, even cigarettes and alcohol. Besides that, as musical artists, Sol.illaquists of Sound are truly very talented -- and unique.
Besides Swamburger (who was called "Florida's most promising rap talent" by one British reviewer) the band consists of the multitalented producer and beat-master DiViNCi, who, the youngest at 21, plays keys, samplers, synths and more; the Sin?ad-style-bald Alex Sarton, aka Alexandragod or Alexandrah (with "rah" as in Ra the Sun god), a 24-year-old implant from Chicago whose sultry and soulful vocals make me think she could someday break out like the next Lauryn Hill; and the often-reticent Tonya Combs, 22, who provides back-up vocals and occasional lead. A fifth member is Charles Wilson III, who has been on sabbatical from the group while playing keys for Justin Timberlake.
During "Vocalization," the increasingly popular open-mike night the band hosts on Monday nights at Will's Pub, handfuls of people -- rappers, guitarists, drummers and more -- often perform at once, and it can be difficult to tell where Sol.illaquists end and the guests begin. Yet the group is a commanding presence on stage, whether at "Vocalization" or one of their own club gigs. The rich, vocal cool of Alexandrah and Combs occasionally morphs into fist-clenched anger; Swamburger's outsized personality delivers brain-twisting, thought-drenched rhymes; and, of course, there's the frenetic sampler-bashing of DiViNCi.
Although on stage he plays the sampler like a wild man, using his feet and even his face, DiViNCi is much less outspoken than Swamburger, especially as he sits in a corner at a computer. Next to Swamburger's shaggy beard and dreads, he looks rather clean-cut. But when he does speak, it's clear the two, as well as the others, are on the same plane, which is one reason their music is so tight. During performances, Sol.illaquists generate such an infusing array of love, DiViNCi says, that they move some listeners to tears.
At the shows, people feel hope and love, he says. "A lot of people feel alone in this world, and because they feel alone they tend to make themselves alone. ... `But when they listen to us` they can sense a connection with something that can only be described as love, or what some people might call God."
"I don't see them as religion; I see them as spiritual practice," says Veronica Santiago, a friend of the group, who, cradling her baby on a worn couch at the Culture Mart, reflects on the group. "It's obvious that there's something special about them, their vibration ... . When I see them, I see people who are awake; they live their word." She looks to them, smiling with confidence, and says, "I firmly believe you guys are going to change the world."
In keeping with their spiritual iconoclasm, Sol.illoquists have similarly created their own musical genre to suit their needs: FAHEEM, or "Funk/Astro/Hip-hop Extraterrestrially Energized Message." If it sounds confusing, don't worry; it is.
Swamburger tries to explain: "We take on topics cosmic, as well as spiritual realms."
"We go beyond the five senses, into dream states and beyond," Alexandrah adds, nodding.
On their 2002 self-released full-length, "4 student counsol (running from precedence)," she narrates, "We as Sol.illaquists of Sound create and introduce FAHEEM, not only as a divine representation of music, but as an entire galaxy of love and principles by which all is appreciated and encouraged to be through positive and progressive woman- and man-ifestation."
After talking to these cats for about two hours, I'm still a bit confused. Yet I'm convinced this isn't just hype; it's what they believe. This isn't just a random muse session. They -- especially Swamburger -- apparently always talk like this. Swamburger's lyrics are devoid of pimps, G's and "20-dollar sacks." Instead, they're enigmatic, flowing so fast they seem to surpass the speed of thought. (His new solo album -- "Roots of Kin" -- is out this week on Eighth Dimension. Its visionary wordplay ends up making most old-school rappers sound like special-ed students.)
And now, Swamburger is talking about the movement again, this time from an old dentist's chair inside his shop. His arms waving and black dreads dangling, he speaks animatedly about its pinnacle. It began a little more than a year ago as a Sunday-evening meeting with just a few friends: "It went from five, to 25, to 55 people," he says, excitedly. He talks so fast it's almost hard to keep up with him. The group, he says, converged weekly at Culture Mart, where they learned about tai chi, Egyptology, veganism and more, and discussed theories on life, love, God, respect and "just being open."
As quickly as they grew, the Sunday meetings diminished, Swamburger laments. He guesses people dropped off because they learned and moved on. But he smiles to think that he, in some way, changed their lives, and that they may go on to teach others. He also lights up when he says that "Vocalization" has become a replacement for the meetings.
During one session of "Vocalization," I begin to understand what he means, and listening to Sol.illoquists, I begin to grasp the message. The atmosphere in the bar is filled with positive energy, and onstage, Sol.illoquists support other performers with a positive reinforcement that flows throughout the room, affecting not only those on stage, but in the crowd as well.
Kelly Shockley, a friend of the group who often performs percussion during "Vocalization," shares in the vibe. A pale-skinned redhead, he is also featured in Anne's documentary, saying, "What we're trying to construct is a nation of love, you know -- unconditional love for everyone."
Swamburger affirms, "We know this is something we want to do to affect the world ... We can change the world."