The Shapeshifting Lore of Honour

  • Words
  • Nastya Zamorska
  • Photography
  • Gil Corujeira

Honour’s artistic identity is not easy to piece together. Commonly referred to as ‘a Chicago-born anonymous producer,’ Honour might actually be a two-people project. The two people might or might not be siblings. Perhaps, they are even a brother and a sister separated at birth, and it is somewhat plausible that they so happened to reconnect on Tinder. Probably one of them, like many Berlin newcomers, had ‘Looking for weed’ in their bio, and it led to the two meeting. Be it by the similar looks or other indicators, the two siblings discovered their blood connection, and proceeded to make music together as a project with a shifting duality element named ‘Honour.’ This sequence of acts makes up quite a lore. But like with most lore, believing or not is for you to choose.

Putting to the test the romantic realism of the narrative above, one person only showed up at the time and place arranged for this feature’s photoshoot. While writing this article, it became clear that no one is sure about the exact number of people involved in the Honour project. Looking to gain some clarity on the matter, I send an email to the artist. I enquire if the project is, as we discussed, a duo or, in fact, a solo act. The response is ever so nonchalant: “We free free… Everyone does what they want. A trio, not a duo.” Perhaps, the mysterious third is an ancestral spirit or another mystical entity. 

Christian imagery was a central visual theme at Honour’s premier of Àlááfíà – an Atonal main stage performance titled ‘Blood’ (referring to the blood of Jesus). The religious references had a certain duality to them. On one hand, the sensation of a very serious and important happening at the electronic music shrine of Kraftwerk worked extremely well as a setting for Honour’s message of esoteric devotion; on the other – something about being anywhere in the nightlife of Berlin feels like being furthest away from the grace of God. Watching the performance, I wondered whether a hint of irony was intended.

honour, Berlin, 2023 © borshch

“The funny thing is that we are just trying to engage a parallel that’s already there. It’s not as jarring as it might sound for someone who hasn’t been to one of our shows and is reading this interview, not quite comprehending it. But there is this synthesis between these ideas of communalism at the core of the club experience and transcendence, ultimately,” – reflect Honour during the conversation I have with them (as a duo) shortly after the Atonal performance.

The classical religious motives of the performance seemed to be at variance with the appearance of a single artist on stage: face covered with a bandana and dressed in a hooded sweatshirt with the American flag on it – a symbol far removed from spiritual serenity, and able to evoke rather diabolical connotations in some. ‘The Chicago-born anonymous producer’ held himself on stage with the most fluent rapper demeanor. Some performances that night gave off the kind of artificial cool that was rehearsed in front of the mirror about a thousand times. Honour’s presence was effortless in a way that is only possible with a grain of naivety and a lot of talent.

Somewhere mid-performance, the American flag-clothed man got in an alteration with the light technician, making a scene reminiscent of Beyonce’s viral ‘Somebody is getting fired’ moment. Beyonce, as well, is known to be aesthetically impartial to The Star Spangled Banner, maybe that’s what sparked my association. That instance felt theatrical and purposefully hectic.

honour, Berlin, 2023 © borshch

While watching the rest of the performance, I came to a realisation that the enormous image of Jesus on the backdrop of the stage is the same one as on the cover of the prolific outsider rapper Lil B’s mixtape ‘MF BASED’ (except the latter has Based God’s face photoshopped over the face of Jesus). An unexpected encounter with some of the archetypal characters of all-American lore.

If even after all the ostensible perplexities above, you choose to believe in the mythology of Honour (which I would advise, as believing even at the sake of allowing oneself to be deluded, often makes things more interesting), some light may be shed on the complexities of Àlááfíà. As our two protagonists, while separated, have spent significant time in very different places: Lagos, Chicago, Tokyo, Berlin, and elsewhere, the untraceable cultural influences might have contributed to the aesthetic plurality of the record.

Against the backdrop of their cultural differences, as a duo Honour, share a sense of spirituality. Be it religion, spirituality, or something that cannot be easily put into words – ‘a signifier of mystery.’ ‘Àlááfíà,’ a word from the Yorùbá language spoken in West Africa, can be translated as ‘wellness’ or ‘strength.’ As explained by Honour, the album draws from Yourba folklore, specifically ‘Forest of a Thousand Daemons’ – the first novel to be written in Yorùbá and one of the first to be written in any of Africa’s indigenous languages. In the novel, the hunter-hero, travels the forest of Irunmale, battels demons, escapes capture, encounters shapeshifting spirit creatures and returns home, sometimes wiser, sometimes richer, sometimes in sorrow. It’s a saga of reconstructing mythology for a continent torn apart by colonization.

we are just trying to engage a parallel that’s already there

In relation to the ‘Forest of a Thousand Daemons’, Àlááfíà can be experienced as a story of its own. The fourteen tracks on the record frequently take narrative shifts, as if we are encountering various mystical creatures and personal demons throughout the album. And this constitutes a whole new chapter in the lore of Honour. Or does it? Derrida once said that ‘‘there is nothing outside the text.” He was cryptically pointing out that all of our understanding is influenced by the way language shapes and constructs our reality. The idea here is that we ourselves create the objects of our interpretation, so maybe these layers of narrative are just a projection of my personal mythology. When we discuss this, Honour are interested in the deconstructive approach; they tell me that allowing the listener to create their own meaning is central to their work: “People can take what they want form of it. We live in a culture where things are quite literalised and constant. There is this constant stream of information, and we’re quite into the idea of blocking this flow a bit.”

“We want to go really big, ” — Honour tell me. And, to be honest, I can see that happening in the very near future. After an extensive talk about personal spiritual history, understated messages conveyed through overstated symbolism, and Honour’s future plans (of which the main one is to see 50 Cent’s show in Berlin), I ask about the Lil B reference in the Atonal performance. To me, it seems to make so much sense, as not many artists have managed to cultivate lore as unchecked as Lil B in his metafictional Based God universe. Honour (both) laugh and tell me that this was completely coincidental. They also tell me about the initial plan to have baby lambs on stage for that performance, which, disappointingly, was impossible because baby lambs get scared of loud music and smoke. We all laugh about it and agree that when it comes to lore, people should believe what they want to believe. And that Lil B is the best rapper alive.