The Culture of Scent with Cremate London
“Understanding why incense is, is quite profound as a concept and teaches you so much about cultures and their values across the world.”
In our last interview of the series, Jade speaks to founder and creator, Junior Adesanya, about the smells of the earth and how it's fed into his passion project, Cremate. Creating more than just incense, the brand represents a lifestyle, a sense of mind, and a reminder that time is of the essence, so now's the time to enjoy it. Read on to learn more about the cultural significance of incense and how travel has inspired his brand.
When speaking to London-based, Junior, he emphasises the natural quality of his incense brand. With the air of an alchemist, he lightly commiserates over the commercial perfume industry’s usage of synthetic oils. But, with Adesanya, there is something more organic than just his choice of ingredients.
Born out of London but influenced by his interest in religious iconography, skate culture and childhood warnings of Nigerian witches, Adesanya’s interest in creating concoctions was a mini-rebellion waiting to happen. Looking back, he recollects...
“There was a store in Woolwich called 7th Sun which was a tattoo, piercing and occult store. I remember because growing up in a predominately black, inner-city, religious area and being religiously aligned, you’d never go in there… but, me being me, I just went in. I was like what the fuck is going on? I sort of just fell in love with it. They had loads of Chuckie dolls up on the walls, all the crystals… it was just a side of things I had never seen. I knew it existed but it was so taboo within my background. I just thought I wanted to see what it was about. I just remember it stank of Nag Champa!”
The transformative power of scent paired with Adesanya’s tendency to unite seemingly disparate experiences “like mental snapshots”, he began to notice the use of incense wherever he went. From its usage in the church rituals that he grew up in to skating, he noted “incense's presence in relation to other subcultures”. However, it wasn't until a trip to Japan that his ideas around incense and ritual began to crystallise.
“It wasn’t just the culture of burning”, he adds “but the attention to detail when it came to the packaging, what it conveyed and more so, perfecting very traditional, pure scents. Whilst in Japan, I checked out the crazy range that Kuumba has and although many may not class it as specialist, the sheer amount of scents, each with its own very distinct smell and its trippy names, encapsulated this experimental spirit which is more relatable to the younger sub-cultures that adopt incense. It was here that I noticed the marriage of two quite opposite ideas and attitudes; this idea of bringing modernity and tradition together would set the scene for Cremate a few years later”.
Adesanya’s Japanese trip also revealed to him how different cultures valued different scents and the clear differences of these values in East compared to West. Whilst there, he discovered that traditionally the Japanese weren't really big on perfume, but they are very aware that it’s big in the Western market so they make it for financial gain. This type of incense, that we’re more likely to know in our day-to-day lives, is made to improve the aroma of a space. On the other hand, you have incense for Kodo, which is essentially an incense ceremony where the entire ritual revolves around appreciating the aromatic woods many incense is made from. In Christianity, you have incense that is made for prayer in the church - the smoke of burning incense is interpreted as a symbol of the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven.
“I think understanding why incense is, is quite profound as a concept and teaches you so much about cultures and their values across the world.”
Upon moving out a couple of years ago, he decided to try and make his own. This led him to some late-night deep diving on Reddit and even some “random witch forums”. However, Adesanya came back in a natural full circle with his initial scent, now called ‘Mary Mother of God’, which was“based off a lot of the flowers that you find in traditional Roman Catholic Mary gardens like Lavender and Rose”. He jokingly confesses “the first combination smelt really good but I just thought it was a first time fluke thing! I kept messing around with some other ratios until I realised it was actually a good smell!”
While scent can move you to memories of humid climates or fresh spice, Adesanya’s understanding of the essence of smell has a spiritual quality to it. Rather than perceive scent as something you have to travel to find, Adesyana adds “smell is inherently about movement and change. When you're working with essential oils, they change form so easily… when they are carried through smoke or interact with the skin. It is very ethereal and I carry that ethos of change with me”.
The world is an endless source of creativity and innovation to many, Adesanya included. His inspiration ranges from an abbey in Gloucester to the mountains of Tibet, being inspired by every culture that has some significant ties to incense.
“The abbey in Gloucester has been producing their own incense by hand since 1906. I’d really like to hit it up, but not completely sure how to go about it, may have to become a monk? I also want to go to Tibet to study the methods of producing traditional Tibetan incense. It’s really a skill that is honed over years - as is the case most of the time when it comes to making incense, so not really a short trip, but one I dream of.”
It’s clear that for any creative, all inspiration leads back to the holy source: Mother Earth. With Junior and Cremate’s journey, his exposure to a multitude of cultures and sub-cultures have played a significant role in not only the company’s identity, but his own. Experiencing a place is an amalgam of senses working together to make a memorable moment. A simple walk down a street and you'll realise just how much your body interacts with your surroundings. Cremate is clearly a unique and personal blend of these seemingly disparate but holistic journeys - one we can see through Junior’s identity, travels and experiences.
Find Adesanya's products here and take a break, relax and travel with your mind.