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Jonesboro man circles world from home

By Ed Brock

Layers of words and ethereal music float in the smoky air of Harold Williams' in-home recording studio.

The sound is an incantation for an astral projection voyage that orbits the Earth. Rap and poetry mix with Cambodian flute music, voicemail messages and Williams' wife Yuko Williams muttering phrases like "world peace" in Japanese.

And that's Yu-ko, people, not Yo-ko.

For the past several months 29-year-old Williams has spent most of his free time sequestered in the small room in his Jonesboro home, working after his day job is done to build www.earbubbles.com and to record his own CD, "Shudoshi: Project Live." Surrounded by electronic music mixing equipment, Williams has even constructed his own recording studio in the closet of what he calls the Five Spot Hive.

But it's all a culmination of events that started around 10 years ago when Williams was a member of a rap group called "Diversity."

And one can go back even further than that, to Williams' youth, to discover the roots of Williams' approach to music.

Born in Atlanta, Williams moved around in his youth between the city and towns like Barnesville and Decatur but eventually settled in the Riverdale community on Sullivan Road.

"I was just out in the street doing whatever," Williams said. "My Mom said you need to stop or you're going to wind up in jail or dead."

But there was another influence in Williams' life, his "Cambodian mother" Sao Pe and her daughter Nancy Pe. Sao Pe took a more subtle approach to putting Williams on the straight and narrow, teaching him Cambodian language and culture.

"That was the beginning of the Shudoshi movement," Williams said, referring to his stage name that is Japanese for "wandering monk."

"That's when I got into other cultures."

It was also at that time in Williams' life when his aunt introduced him to the music of Bob Marley. The Japanese influence came later when he met his wife while she was a student in the Atlanta area.

World unity and cultural diversity are the recurring themes in the Earbubbles sound. When he talks about his music and what it means, Williams gets highly animated, dancing around, shouting his words and laughing randomly.

His enthusiasm spreads to the other members of the Earbubbles group.

"I had never sung before in my life except in the shower," said Essa "Ragga Saw" Al-Sahalman. "But he believed in me so much I started to believe in myself."

Al-Sahalman, 41, has lived a varied life as well. Born in Detroit, he lived much of his life in Jamaica where worked for a while driving a taxi. He also boxed for 11 years and met Williams while working in technical support for Earthlink, an Internet access company.

Now Al-Sahalman spends so much time writing and recording songs with Williams that his wife thinks there's another woman. That other woman is Earbubbles, Al-Sahalman said, and he shares Williams' desire to spread a message of universal culture.

"I never saw the color of a person's skin, I just saw where their heart is," Al-Sahalman said.

That message was the driving force behind Williams' rap group "Diversity" which he joined in the early 1990s. But that venture ended after a fateful radio interview that went awry, and by 1994 the group members had gone their separate ways with Williams shuffling missiles for the Air Force in North Dakota.

But that's also when he owned his first mixing board, an MPC 2000 that he still uses. He would often "compete" with his friend and former Diversity member Rick "B-Flat" Scott back in Atlanta, sending each other their latest compositions. When Williams moved back to the area in 1998 the two of them shared some of their creations with some friends.

"Everybody was like, ya'll have some nice music, don't waste it, get it out to people," Williams said.

That's when Earbubbles began to grow into the five-member group (hence the name "Five Spot Hive" for the recording studio) that it is today.

Maleek "Elevation" Hicks, 30, of Atlanta, is another member of Earbubbles and the first to be recruited to do vocals.

Hicks and Scott met on the job at UPS and Scott often told Hicks about his friend Williams, Hicks said. At the time Hicks was already writing poetry and performing "spoken word" so Scott brought Williams to one of his shows.

"His style is so rugged," Williams said. "He's giving it a push, taking it to another level."

His poetry addresses social and political issues, Hicks said, but he doesn't preach.

"I expose the government a little, but at the same time I'm patriotic so I try to spread unity and diversity," Hicks said.

After Hicks came the other members of the group, Australian-born Atlanta DJ David "Ratsack" Mitsak, Tiffany "JT Hair Reese" Harrice and Camille "Nubian" Dyer.

"We all just reeled people in who we knew would flow with the project and just fit them into the puzzle," Hicks said.

Now Williams is recording one copy after another of "Project Live" and Hicks' album "Project Mon-U-Mental." He hopes to have them ready for sale by September at Tower Records, Criminal Records, on CDBaby.com and of course his own Web site. That site gets an average of 200 hits a week from all around the world with a strong following in Brazil and Japan (the site is also written in Japanese).

On Saturday the group will hold "The National Black Arts n Jump Off!" at "The Mansion" at 3810 Wieuca Road across from Phipps Plaza. Directions are available on the Web site.

The event is being touted as the "spoken word event of the summer" but Williams said they haven't really defined the music they're making. They strove to make it as unique as possible and refused to even listen to the radio or watch MTV lest they be influenced.

The music elements are drawn mostly old jazz and R&B tunes that Williams cut into tiny pieces for re-composition in combination with the vocal elements. In the end, Williams said, it's the latter part that really matters.

"When you hear the music don't listen to the beats or the music, listen to the words," Williams said. "The point is for you to think."