The highly anticipated debut project When Smoke Rises by Mustafa explores the idea of love, losing someone and retracing what of you they left with.
When Smoke Rises is Mustafa Ahmed’s first full-length album as a solo artist, but it’s just the latest in his growing library of snapshots from Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood.
On his debut solo album, Mustafa formerly known as Mustafa the Poet, confronts grief and dispossession through a painfully intimate tribute featuring folk-music overtones.
Mustafa is a founding member of the rap collective Halal Gang, he was known as Mustafa the Poet, having gained recognition for his earnest spoken-word verse at just 12 years old.
But the topics that marked his poetry as a young teen—violence, death, grief—have remained constant in his artistry, and they remain focal on When Smoke Rises.
The album, named in honour of Smoke Dawg, a fellow Halal Gang member who was murdered in 2018, presents 8 songs which Mustafa recognises as obituaries. In an instagram post the artist said: “These songs are obituaries, each melody a congregation for the dead.”
Many of Mustafa’s most heartfelt verses are directed to his roots and community he grew up in. In the opening song “Stay Alive,” he sings to the soldier with a “bottle of lean and a gun in your jeans,” begging, “stay alive, stay alive” assuring him, “I care about you, fam.”.
For most of When Smoke Rises, Mustafa takes a standpoint of absolute devotion. On “What About Heaven,” he wavers at the question, “What if you’re not forgiven?,” and on “Separate,” he cries, “I’m too young to feel this pain.” as well as his mother singing a Sudanese folk song.
The production of each song on the album gives voice to these vulnerable, private emotions of Mustafa’s, adding sentimentality to the folk aesthetic.
Lyrically this album is a personal diary, exploring the artists journey of grief, after already losing too many young lives. Mustafa’s voice alone paints emotive imagery through an almost physical cry at points, especially in Ali, titled for Ali Rizeig, on which he expresses regret at failing to persuade his friend to leave the home in which he was shot dead.
The music is mournful and withdrawn, featuring samples of his friends speaking. It’s sad, and very beautiful – a sentimental tribute to those no longer here.
Listen to When Smoke Rises here.
What did you think of Mustafa’s debut album? Let us know @PieRadioUK.