There is no more gratifying feeling for people as social animals than to be in on something before it pops off. From tech to finance to sports to music, we’re always chasing that high. But as a three-year-old local underground media company, we at Down to the Wire know as well as anyone that it can also be frustrating to sit around waiting for that thing you know is gold to gain the traction it deserves. It’s like sitting on the tarmac, feeling the vibrations in your seat, wondering when you’ll get to take off.
The key to fighting off this kind of nervous ennui is simple: live in the moment. Enjoy where you are while you’re there. Advice to live by really, and recently, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing masters at work.
Cruise Cntrl is a collaboration between and, to hear them tell it, an evolution of two locally grown music initiatives: Woke Studios and Twelve07, with assists from across the Ottawa scene. Cruise Cntrl boasts a sprawling talent pool, but its frontmen, performers KAR33M, Banggz, Belema, and Chyme, remain laser focused on their artistic vision: bringing the Afrobeat genre and similar diaspora music to Canada.
KAR33M told Down to the Beat’s John Balser that he views this mission as the next step in his artistic journey, and the four seem above petty concerns like numbers or perception — as long as the work is getting done, they’re happy to keep doing it.
That’s not to say that Cruise Cntrl lacks ambition, however. Far from it. Belema told us that he wants to position the brand so that if and when Afrobeat pops off in Ottawa, Ontario or Canada, people will view this project as the starting point. But when it comes to show time, these big picture considerations are clearly not preoccupying anyone’s mental. When it comes to show time, it’s all about the energy of the moment.
It was a biting November evening when I stepped into the Happy Goat warehouse somewhere in the depths of Hintonburg for the group’s first show. The crowd was a patchwork mix of millennial hipsters, tuned-in college kids, and industry regulars. The atmosphere was pleasant, but there was a nervous energy about, like actually seeing a live show was some sort of forbidden fruit.
But from the minute the MC, our very own Lefika Chauhan, stood up and announced that the show would be starting (and, importantly, that we would be allowed to get up and move around), the tension started to melt. It would continue to flow away from the audience, replaced by good vibes and an almost procedural elimination of outside concerns, as each artist brought their unique energy and personality to the stage.
The show was modeled after a flight plan, the artists’ interpretation of the Afrobeat style taking us from Africa across to the Caribbean, up through the U.S. Great Migration style, and into our little Canadian coffee warehouse. The performances had a calculated intensity to them, as if each set required actually piloting an aircraft, but the effects of that hard work were as undeniable as the closed-eye grins I kept catching members of the audience slipping into. The music was clearly in control.
Banggz performing at the most recent Cruise Cntrl event this December
Which reminded me of something Banggz said in his interview with John: “Cruise Cntrl is a journey [...] that journey’s gonna keep going, and we gon’ cruise, there’s no stopping, every day something new.”
I understood that the flight motif represented the group’s mission to bring Afrobeat to the city’s attention, but it wasn’t until I heard Fixxx come on an intercom, flight attendant style, and we all headed out the exit to smoke up, that maybe it was about something deeper. Something about enjoying the journey and accepting the turbulence or lack of control, perhaps. Something about how the anxiety of the tarmac always gives way to the pleasure of flight. I’m still not really sure.
As we rounded out our night, chopping it up on the Happy Goat patio with the performers like they hadn’t just finished delivering two full hours of straight unmitigated heat, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in on something before it popped off. I felt that high creeping up, but I also felt, refreshingly, that it didn’t really matter. That a night like this one could be appreciated for its own sake, not necessarily as a part of a bigger picture. I’ll leave you with one final quote, this one from Belema, because I think he can sum up my point just fine:
“Even when I’m not in the studio, my mind’s ringing melodies every day, so it’s like, it’s just a cruise. I see that as a cruise, I don’t see that as anything else ‘cause I wanna enjoy and accept the moment, every moment, ‘cause that’s how I’m able to express myself.”
Written by: Colman Brown
Photo credits: Quest of Dreamland Studios