Joash Almeda has been known as Babylung ever since he started smoking pot at a relatively young age.
“That’s what my friends called me because I’d always start coughing, and the name just stuck,” recalled the Surrey-raised musician, who is starting to make a name for himself with an intriguing mix of R&B, hip-hop and even gospel.
Those sounds propel To Live And Die In Surrey (Bayanihan Records), a new album created by Babylung upon his pandemic-forced return to his family’s Guildford-area home last year.
A few years previous, he’d been studying and performing music in Scotland, following some time spent in Toronto.
“I love creating stories built around my life experiences growing up as a troubled youth and finding myself after pursuing music,” reported Babylung, 22.
A half-decade ago, the former Holy Cross High School-er was concussed while playing football there for the Crusaders.
“It happened during a game when I was playing against Chase Claypool,” he said, referring to the Abbotsford-raised receiver now playing with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. “I remember hitting him and not feeling right, and then I was involved in another tackle, and that was it.”
Circa 2016, the brain injury prompted him to retreat from sports and begin creating music, a pursuit embraced by members of his church-going family.
Babylung soon moved to Toronto to fully pursue his career in music, was selected for the 2019 MusiCounts Scholarship and mentorship program, and later jetted to Glasgow for studies at the University of the West of Scotland.
When COVID-19 hit, the first notes of To Live And Die In Surrey began to emerge, including the title track and six others. The song “Betrayal” was turned into a video earlier this summer, as was “Funny Innit?”
The latter song riffs on Babylung’s juvenile delinquency.
“I recently drove past the Surrey Police Department and remembered having to meet monthly with my probation officer when I was 13,” he recalled. “Passing by there, now having traveled the world thanks to music, graduating, and working in the music industry, I knew I’d come too far to end up in that dark place again. I’m college-educated, musically gifted, alive – everything I wasn’t supposed to be. Funny innit?’”
The new album represents a leap forward for Babylung, who produced the majority of To Live And Die In Surrey and played most of the instruments.
“I think overall this album helped me to truly find my sound not only as an artist and songwriter but also as a producer,” he said.
Ultimately, To Live And Die In Surrey is “a love letter to my past, present, and future,” Babylung posted to Facebook.
“I’m so incredibly excited to share with you the stories and experiences of my adolescence,” he wrote. “Coming back to Surrey last where I grew up after three years of travel, study, and writing music I realized there was so much I hadn’t faced. So this album was therapeutic for me. I wrote these songs with tears but now I’m sharing it with nothing but joy. And now I’m happy to say it’s finally yours.”
Over in Glasgow, Babylung discovered a thriving live-music scene, and wants to get back to performing again soon, with a Surrey-homecoming gig among his plans.
“It’s exciting that things are coming together like this,” he said.