The self-dubbed “vibe collective,” Kalmunity, is a musical group who perform improvised shows twice a week in Montreal. Their unique form of “live, organic music” falls into place naturally; nothing is rehearsed beforehand, and there are no limitations for the sounds, themes, or collaborations that can be produced on stage, making their performance is an experience as much as a show.
Kalmunity, a play on the words “calm” and “unity,” was a project formed by Jahsun, a Montreal artist, in 2003. He had noticed a lack of platforms for different forms of black music to come together within the Montreal music scene. To remedy this, the Montreal native invited artists to come together on one stage and give live, improvised music a show. The result was a melange of jazz, funk, soul, hip-hop, afro-beat, and rap, among others.
“Music is one language,” Jahsun claimed. “That’s what we show by mixing it all together, it all is one world of expression.”
A typical Kalmunity song will start up with one musician playing solo, and other instruments slowly chiming in one by one. While the music is going, vocalists will participate in a huddle where those who are inspired can step forward. These huddles make sure that the themes to be explored align within reasonable boundaries so as to create a succinct piece of music. Once the vocalists finish the huddle, they take turns at the microphone, either alone or in groups, while the instrumentalists simultaneously listen and adapt.
“It’s about adding to the puzzle,” Jashun said, “Sometimes, two people come together, and it’s not necessarily intentional; but if you’re open enough to listen to that clash of sound, it will inspire another sound. And from that you can build.”
Akin to the way their sound is produced, there is no formal process in becoming a member of the collective. While each performance usually features 12 to 15 members, the entire collective has reached 70 members specializing in different forms of art. Vocalists have the freedom to perform in whatever language they best express themselves in, which ends up ranging from French, to English, to Creole.
While the group is diverse in origin, talent, and language, they share a common reverence for music that sits outside the mainstream. They pride themselves on not being bound by a three minute limit or a repeated pattern, and in telling stories that diverge from common themes of money, sex, alcohol, and clubs. This elusive musical quality, which they refer to as an “unsterilized” sound, landed them a slot in the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2009 and 2012. This allowed them to spread their messages to larger crowds than ever before.
“There’s something really contagious about a community of 12 to 15 people really just trying to be honest on stage, as opposed to entertaining people,” said Jahsun, “I think that it relates to the human spirit directly. So I hope [the audience] feels inspired for whatever they’re doing, that they feel a certain energy that helps them carry on in a more positive way.”
The desire to spread the value of organic music also inspired Kalumnity to establish bimonthly workshops. Through these, artists and musicians are able to bring in their instruments or pieces of art. They then receive hands-on instruction from three to four collective members in order to learn to do what Kalmunity does on stage.
“We really critique how the communication can be better, not necessarily the art,” said Jahsun, “We’re not there to teach how to be a better poet or a better musician per se, but in a way we are, because the tips we’re giving will help you become a better artist.”
In typical Kalmunity fashion, the future for the collective remains unplanned. Jahsun wants Kalmunity to thrive, whether it be by continuing their performances and workshops, or by potentially putting smaller, diverse EPs in the works.
“I just want to be able to ensure that there’s always a space for black music to be explored creatively,” Jashun said. “I also see us as becoming a bigger resource to Montreal itself [… Kalmunity is] local, [we’ve] got a certain quality that is a high standard of quality, but also a certain quality that is Montreal.”
No matter what the future holds, Kalmunity—the self-characterized music collective and church of sorts—will continue to “vibe on” into their 13th year of celebrating black music and live, improvised performances.