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The metaphysical magnet drew Abraham to New York. He left Denver just as the Pirate Signal was beginning to pick up serious momentum here, and he figured that momentum would cross time zones. When it didn't, he couldn't escape feeling that he was starting over.

"It was just struggling, relentless struggling," he recalls. "I was still making music, but I didn't even know how I was going to get this stuff recorded. I was struggling to pay rent; how was I going to pay for recording time? I just realized how far I had set myself back...for better or for worse, what I've been dealt here, in the place where I've been born and raised and the music scene I came up in — this is mine. Me going to New York was me trying to penetrate this other place.

"When I was in New York, I had this bi-weekly that got pretty big after a while. Cats from all over New York would come, and it would be like, 'Brooklyn's in the house!' 'Queens is in the house!' And I'd always go, 'Is Denver in the house?' And everybody would be like, 'Huh?' It was always that kind of thing, and it sort of became a situation where I felt like a man without a country, because it was like, I'm not from there, and I left home."

Now hear this: Yonnas Abraham (left) and Alejandro Martinez are the Pirate Signal.
Now hear this: Yonnas Abraham (left) and Alejandro Martinez are the Pirate Signal.

Details

The Pirate Signal at the Westword Music Showcase, with more than fifty of Denver's finest acts, 1 p.m. Saturday, June 13, Verizon Wireless Stage, 12th and Acoma, $9.33 in advance, $20 day of show, westword.com.

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Just as Abraham was beginning to realize all that he'd left behind, he got an offer to perform in Skull Candy's hip-hop tent on the Warped Tour — an offer that came through a Denver contact, oddly enough. He took it as a sign that it was time for the prodigal to head back home. At the end of the day, the Mile High City was what had made him who he is.

One of the major reasons he developed his own style, he explains, "was I grew up watching the scene, and it was just unimpressed — the state of being unimpressed. So much of it was that, that I felt like I had to make music that was like 'Ahhh!' to make them feel. If I would have stayed in New York, I would've stripped away perhaps the level of animation I put into my music. That's one of the things about being in Denver. The state of being isolated like this allowed me to become like this. I didn't have this strong influence. When I wanted to make hip-hop, nobody was around me. It wasn't like I knew where to go, I knew who to talk to. I had to figure this shit out myself."

Then again, that's what he's been doing his whole life. Abraham's parents were Eritrean; they walked for nine days through the desert to leave their war-torn homeland on the northeastern edge of Africa. They landed in Italy, where Abraham was conceived, then moved to Denver, where he was born. His parents split when he was three, and he lived with his mom in Virginia until he was nine. That's when he moved back to Denver, to live with his father in Park Hill, attending parochial school before he went to East High.

Already consumed with hip-hop, Abraham began crafting his own rudimentary beats his senior year. At the University of Colorado Denver, he began broadening his horizons with the help of Portishead and the Mars Volta, as well as the dense soundscapes of the Def Jux imprint. And then he formed the Pirate Signal with Ben TK, a devout Hari Krishna.

In 2004, the Pirate Sygnal, as it was then known, released its debut, a dense, esoteric release titled Norma(L): High Manchild's American Revolution(s). Album. After helping write songs for the next record, The Name of This Band Is the Pirate Signal, a far more accessible disc, TK departed the group. But Joey Kuvo, an ace engineer who was on hand for the inception, stayed on, and DJ A-what soon joined up and has been an integral part of the act ever since.

This reconfigured lineup began working on One Alone, a project that Abraham thought would be his masterwork; in the meantime, A-what and Abraham released an exceptional mixtape called Of Gods and Gangsters, Vol. 1. While that effort was well-received, it was only meant to tide folks over until One Alone was completed — and Abraham fully intended to finish it after the Warped Tour, when he returned to Denver. But then in March, Abraham and Kuvo had an inexplicable — at least to Abraham — falling-out, and Abraham and A-what had to start over from scratch.

Ultimately, Abraham says, this latest trial could turn out to be the best thing that could happen to the Pirate Signal, since it's reignited his creativity. In addition to making beats for his friends' albums, he's embarked on a project with Monolith co-founder Matt Fecher (aka DJ Hot to Death), which has already warmed up the stage for indie acts like Cut Copy. He's been studying with white-hot producer DJ Frank E, perfecting his production skills, and began work with A-what on a new album called, fittingly enough, No Weak Heart Shall Prosper, which is tentatively slated for release this fall. And he recently landed a regular gig at Maloney's. It's all about multi-tasking to create income.

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