Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : Metro Demo Contents Laura Dowrich-Phillips
As a primary school student Muhammad
Muwakil loved to sing. He even held the position
of lead vocalist in his school choir but when he
threw his falsetto into a group rendition of a Boyz
II Men song after a game of cricket with some
friends, they laughed so hard at his voice that he
"Them men laugh for weeks," he recalled as we
sat down for Freetown Collective's first major inter-
As he got older, Muwakil became known for his
spoken word poetry, his insightful lyrics and pas-
sionate delivery rapidly earning him acclaim in open
mic sessions across the country.
It was at one of these sessions he met fellow poet
Lou Lyons. Their encounter was brief but some time
later they met again at an open mic series Muwakil
staged while studying at the University of the West
"I said you are the guy with the beard," recalled
Lyons, who had taken time off from the performing
circuit to focus on his law studies.
The two hit it off instantly and became close
friends. Watching them interact with each other
during our photo shoot and later during our inter-
view at Muwakil's home in Belmont, it was clear
these two have a deep brotherly bond that tran-
scends their talents.
Together with another poet friend, Keegan Ma-
haraj, the duo spent a lot of time talking about life.
They had no idea then that this "band of brothers"
would become a movement and that music would
be the vehicle to take Muwakil and Lyons forward.
An avid writer who scribbles poetry and musings
in neat handwriting accompanied by his own illustra-
tions, Muwakil wrote a song called Love Transition.
He was teaching himself to play the song on a green
guitar while singing, which proved difficult until he
changed the octave. Still, Muwakil was not ready to
take his voice prime time, despite Lyons' love for the
It wasn't until they wrote Mama Africa, a song
born out of some beats created by a visiting Ameri-
can student, that Muwakil began to develop more
confidence in his vocal instrument.
"The confidence that song birthed in us, we wrote
it in 15 minutes," said Lyons.
"I discovered what I could do with my voice, I got
excited," said Muwakil, singing some lines from the
Riding high on that wave of confidence they wrote
another song called Decisions and it suddenly
dawned on them after hearing their recorded ver-
sion that singing was something they could do.
They began injecting music into their spoken word
performances and decided to dedicate six months to
improving themselves. Lyons, Superblue's cousin,
wanted to work on his guitar skills; Muwakil wanted
to improve his voice.
Within three months, their plan was cut short
when they were invited to London to perform at a
spoken word show put on by the Kalinago Move-
"We went up with two songs but that experience
showed us what we could do, it was a serious eye-
opener," said Muwakil.
In London what they saw was a diaspora thirsty
for something with substance and soul, something
beyond the party vibes of soca, something that
could brand them and identify them as Caribbean
Muwakil and Lyons saw this yearning as part of a
larger problem afflicting the youth at home. The
music was failing.
"Calypso don't want to evolve, soca gone clear, the
local reggae singers singing the same songs we
have been hearing from Jamaica. Rapso was doing it
and Klanny (Ataklan) was the man to do it but I
don't know what happened," said Muwakil.
"As much as we knew we could make change with
the spoken word we know with music we could do
"We decided that as soon as we get back to
Trinidad we will take this seriously," said Lyons. " We
saw it as a necessary step, it wasn't a debate. We
wanted to provide an alternative diet to our peers."
Freetown Collective was born, named after the
historical nomenclature given to the Belmont area
which once served as a refuge to slaves who wished
to buy their freedom. The Collective is an umbrella
body which has a musical arm which Lyons and
Muwakil spearheads while Maharaj continues to do
the Spoken Word.
Their role now clear, the duo set about writing.
"When we came back there was an explosion of
songs. Within four months we had a whole cata-
logue of songs," said Lyons.
What really caught the guys off guard was how
popular their music became. They were performing
shows and seeing people singing along.
"We didn't think we were good and next to other
musicians we felt like outsiders," Lyons revealed.
A sold out performance in Guyana made them re-
alise they were onto something but it was a show in
Cuba, which they attended as part of a local contin-
gent for the Fire festival that really floored them.
During a performance of Soar On Your Own, a fast
paced ska-like song, the 1500 people in the audience
surged forward, clapping and singing along.
"That is when I knew this is something bigger,
now it is just to surrender and let God do what he
does, we are just vessels. The process was to make
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