I had the chance to listen to some local poetry by Abdullah “Bigg Wash” Washington in the form of a brand new album called Infinity Gems. This emotional project mixes musical elements on some tracks with strictly spoken word on others. After several listens, I was able to get more context on some individual tracks and the head-space that this album came from.
Bigg Wash lived in Erie as a child before returning here, where he still has family. He hopes to bring his poetry and poetry in general to a wider audience in Erie and to reach out to people who may not think that spoken word is for them. The musical elements are meant to help in that regard.
His influence comes form many places. “Certainly Paul Lawrence Dunbar,” Wash cites. “Musically, you will definitely hear Gil Scott Heron and possibly the Roots.” Additionally, as any comic fans may have guessed, Infinity Gems is a reference to the Marvel Universe.
“In the Marvel Comics Universe, the Infinity Gems are the most powerful and sought after items,” Wash says. “This reflects the work I put into these poems. My brother and I moved a lot growing up, so we always read and made our own comics and activity books, among other boyhood activities. The poems here started as a chapbook submission. I want my poems to ‘jump off the page’ like a comic book.”
Comics do not dominate the themes of this album, but they do reappear on the track “Super ‘Friends.'” This track depicts Batman arguing with Superman over, well…all kinds of things.
“Spiritual awareness is the overall theme here,” Wash explains. “Super ‘Friends” even seems to be about carnal matters, but it is really about power.”
Spirituality is featured heavily in a series of four tracks titled “Heavens,” in which passages from the Quran are spoken. The tracks interspersed throughout the album really add unity and a strong message.
“There is a bit of anti-Muslim backlash in America now, but this piece is a step in a positive direction,” Wash says. “Islam is an everyday religion, like Christianity. It is not about extremism. There is a beauty in the words (The Quran: Surah An-Nur) here that is hard to deny. This piece is about spiritual progress and also a nod to the poet Rumi.”
Another powerful rendition is “The Gun” which is a poetic version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Principles of Nonviolence. This comes from a perceived need for the message of those words.
“What surprised me coming back [to Erie] was how much progress is still needed,” says Wash. “The poeticized rendition of Martin Luther King’s Six Principles of Non-Violence in ‘The Gun’ is intended to inject the potency of his message back into our discussions about injustice.”
With all the important messages contained in this album, we felt it necessary to ask Bigg Wash for some advice for students looking to break through in the arts. He had this so say:
“You are going to have to be very focused and disciplined to pursue a career in the arts anywhere. This is what people mean when they say you must make sacrifices for art. Erie has a lot of talented artists, a lot of creative people in many branches of art, but audience support is very limited. You have to work very hard just to get people to pay attention to you. But your art is important, and it’s worth the struggle, even though it takes a long time to realize your goals.”
However there was plenty support from contributors on Infinity Gems.
“A lot of people helped put this thing together: Cee Williams, Erie’s current county Poet Laureate, set this up as part of the community poet initiative using Poets’ Hall Press. Tom Weber executive produced this. Tom also did the graphic art according to my designs. Doc Proto handled most of the music production here. Proto helped produce the song I closed my Ted Talk with so it was natural getting back into the studio with him. Tanner Edwards added the beautiful upright bass on ‘A Real Man.’ WL Leland, AKA ‘Ghost the Ill Figure,’ helped with production and excellent vocal assists on ‘Cross Words.’ Working with Abdullah on ‘Heavens’ for the first time was pleasant because of his sincerity. LaMorvielle Campbell is a true artist and provided the female response on ‘Daylight Savings Time’ and the luminous singing on ‘Light.”
This album is a great example of local art and well worth checking out. Anyone interested in hearing Bigg Wash’s work can come to his album premiere this Friday, February 19th at Poets’ Hall downtown at the Avalon on the second floor. Come early because Open Mic starts at 8pm. The suggested donation for the show is $3.00 and “Infinity Gems” will be selling for a donation of $10.00.