The Fellowship is an anthropological dissection of religious lineage, reflecting on the role of generational worship and the transition that comes with electing a different path from your family. The mental and spiritual push-pull of Joseph Shabason’s dual-faith Jewish and Islamic household guided his outlook during upbringing and early adulthood.
However, The Fellowship is an invitation to question that which we worship so devoutly and instead transgress from familial beliefs. Joseph cements his own lived experience in an ode of sonic reverence in the hope others can seek solace in the sound.
The album opens to ‘Life with My Grandparents’, the interspersing reverberations transporting us back in time, like a radio tuning into a moment or memory that Joseph needs us to witness for his story to make sense. The interjection of a voice on a video camera splices the timeline, but it feels distant behind the notes, like it’s playing in a dark pool of nostalgia whilst we watch Joseph from the shore.
Throughout the next seven tracks Joseph baptises us beneath the surface of his life, the unique amalgamation of ambient sounds and new-age jazz lapping over us in waves until we emerge with a newfound clarity, transcending that which we thought we knew on those who watch us from above.
The auditory map ensures we can ‘Escape from New York’ and instead guides us to Toronto, where an anxiously erratic punctuation of cyclical beats surround us, as layer after layer of sound piles above us until each one is almost indistinguishable. These melodic elements are intended to overwhelm and overstimulate, the pockets of sonic clarity a breath of fresh air before we are once again plunged beneath ominous synths and left with a tense internalisation of the experience Joseph’s parents faced fleeing their hometown.
“These bright and hopeful stretches of tarmac could have been what Joseph dreamed of during an upbringing of internalised religious conflict, or a symbol of the unknown that he was faced with due to the dilemma of his familial faith”
The titular track ‘The Fellowship’ is situated at a moment of reflection, paying homage to the insular Islamic community Shabason’s traditionally Jewish parents belonged to prior to his birth. Gentle xylophonic synth melodies interspersed with birdsong starkly contrasts the former track. An element of peacefulness overwhelms us as we are bathed by the familiarity of his distinctive saxophone.
The accompanying video for the track takes us along empty roads, finding melody in the monotony of open spaces and nameless destinations.
These bright and hopeful stretches of tarmac could have been what Joseph dreamed of during an upbringing of internalised religious conflict, or a symbol of the unknown that he was faced with due to the dilemma of his familial faith. The pan pipe alludes to a pastime, whilst the 90’s timbres become a marker of the decade Joseph has brought us to.
Nevertheless, the harmonisation of woodwind and brass always prioritises the fervour of Joseph’s unmistakable saxophonic lilts at the forefront, symbolising how his independent beliefs were inevitably due to transgress those he was born into.
“Looking back on our life, the early years seem to creep further into the distance and appear shorter than they once were”
The age distinctions in the three middle tracks unpack Joseph’s life up until early adolescence, a trilogy of autobiographical audio to illustrate his growing unease through the decades. Reflection condenses time, and the shortness of the track shows how looking back on our life, the early years seem to creep further into the distance and appear shorter than they once were.
The gradual change of pace in the track sees Joseph creep into adolescence, the evident unease distinguished through interspersed silences between the notes, whilst the continuous movement between chords exudes a youthful curiosity. Just over midway, a pivotal time for a young boy, Joseph injects a change of tone, dripping through more pacier and ominous sounds that leave us unsure what to expect as he flies into his teens.
The brisk percussion returns to hurl us through the volatile teenage years. A cacophony of woodwind and Eastern soundscapes enlighten us to the amount of people involved in this aspect of Joseph’s life, a ‘thriller’ style build-up of sound alluding to a drastic change.
At this age the artist was contemplating the consequences of his own religion on those around him, whether their sexuality or consumption of narcotics destined them to a fate he was raised to fear, the distress evident in the jittery bars and whirlpool of noise.
“The saxophone a touch of subtle sensuality, the musing melody inviting contemplation, preparing us for transformation”
‘15-19’ is more of a reflective and meditative track, a gentle reconstruction of the self-guided by ivory keys and muted synths. The background of discussion, of new conversations and communities, lit the fire that would burn Joseph’s internal temples into embers he could collect and construct into this album. The saxophone a touch of subtle sensuality, the musing melody inviting contemplation, preparing us for transformation.
Joseph is a sonic storyteller, and ‘Comparative World Religions’ is an ode to a college course that catalysed his departure from the religious foundation on which he was raised. Once again, the Eastern soundscape overwhelms the track, a business that would be hard to articulate your own thoughts over. The mournful brass overlaps the strong percussive backing, a presentation of mental and emotional conflict coming to terms with these two distinct aspects of his personality being left behind.
Religion comes with historical and emotional gravity, a long line of repressive ideologies and catastrophic events fuelled by animosity between faiths – a quotidian intersection Joseph was caught in which he has captured so intensely and so admirably throughout the chronology of the album.
To listen to ‘So Long’ is to hear, really hear the double meaning of it. As the brazen brass bids adieu to a life of structured religious practice, Joseph includes a bittersweet transition permeated by the sombreness that comes with change. The composer admits it took so long to make this break, “at least another twelve to fifteen years to fully deprogram myself from the guilt and shame” that religion had created in his daily life.
However, the reintroduction of the guitar brings back this modernism teased in track five, a clarity and energy for his new chapter, a symbol of creativity that breeds articulate and innovative musical marvel such as The Fellowship.