MH Exclusive: Native Deen

Native Deen

Native Deen is an Islamic musical group from the Washington, D.C. area.

MH: How and when did Native Deen start?

The 3 of us started performing together in 2000. Although we did not actually come up with a name until about 2002. However, the seeds were planted through the project called MYNA Raps which started in 1992. I was on the first MYNA raps with other artists. Naeem and Abdul-Malik were on MYNA raps 2-4 with other artists. And all three of us were the only artists on MYNA raps 5. We performed songs from MYNA raps 5 for 5 years until we came out with our own album in 2005 titled Deen You Know.

 MH: What topics or themes influence your music, lyrics and content?

We all have different backgrounds. And our upbringing finds its way into out music. We have home school backgrounds, Islamic School backgrounds, public school backgrounds, military backgrounds, university backgrounds, marriage, children, etc. We all have different music that we prefer and those different styles of music finds its way into our style as well.

MH: What role does music have in educating and inspiring individuals to change themselves and their communities?

Its huge. Music is a language that speaks to people on top of their regular language. A song can do a lot more than a speech for the emotional well being of a person sometimes. Music is another tool used to communicate thoughts and messages to people.

MH: Some argue that music can be dawah and can educate people of other faiths about Islam and Muslims. Should Muslim artists create music geared only towards Muslims or make music that is relatable to people of other faith too?

Both. Every artist does not have to do both. However, I think the Muslim community needs artists that do both.

 MH: Native Deen is one of the pioneers when it comes to Muslim hip hop music. Have you seen an evolution and an increase in appearance of Muslim rappers and musicians?

Oh yes. Its good to see many more artists coming on the scene. Alhamdu-lilah we were able to push the envelope a little and open some doors for the artists coming now.

MH: Many of your songs focus on Muslim American identity. How important is it to create messages for Muslim youth to be proud of their Muslim identity?

It’s very important. Muslim identity is a growing concern for many American Muslim communities.

MH: Native Deen’s traveled internationally and nationally and your music has been universally accepted and been a crucial part of the development of some Muslim youth’s identity. Have you seen common challenges for Muslim youth in the US and internationally?

Gender relations is a common problem. Youth do not feel empowered to have proper relationships with the opposite gender. Identity is another common challenge. Muslim Youth are not aware of their history and sometimes they do not think of themselves highly. And may consider the West as the advanced society because of today’s reality.

 MH: Many people complain about the negative connotations associated with hip hop and rap and the messages promoted in the genre of rap and hip hop. How would you respond to individuals who say hip hop and rap shouldn’t be listened to (no matter who the artist is) due to the negative influence it has on the youth?

That is a very general statement. A person can make it even broader and put ALL music into that category. The fact is that music is a tool and hip hop is a style. The lyrics are a different thing. And there are many hip hop songs that are extremely positive. It would be better to teach youth to stay away from bad lyrics no matter what the style of music instead of keeping them away from hip hop alone.

 MH: Many Muslim artists like Lupe Fiasco have been critical of current trends in hip hop and amongst rappers and tries to promote positive messages in his music. How important is it for messages in music to be meaningful and positive?

Its very important. But I think its more important for it NOT to be negative. Meaning, a person can write a song about watching water on the beach. Or some experience they had. Another person may not find the song meaningful or positive. But they can recognize that its not negative.

MH: Is it possible for Muslim musicians and artists to go “mainstream” and still maintain the positive messages in their music?

Of course. I think the next generation will produce many more of these types of artists.

 MH: Have you seen an expansion of Muslim artists into different genres of music apart from rap?

I’m seeing Muslims artists coming up into every style of music there is. Reggae, Country, Rock, etc.

MH: Who are some of your favorite Muslim musicians or artists?

Since I can’t name them all, I wont name any. Because I know these artists. And I would not want to offend anyone by forgetting.

MH: If you could collaborate with any artists or groups, Muslim or non-Muslim artist who would you like to work with?

I would like to do a project with Lupe personally. I think Naeem would love to do a project with Yasin Bey (Mos Def).

MH: What advice would you give to aspiring Muslim artists and musicians?

Have a partner. Don’t do it alone. Even if its just a manager who is close to you. But have a partner.

MH: Where can we learn more about your work and follow you work?

Facebook and http://www.nativedeen.com

MH Exclusive: The Narcicyst

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Photo Credit: Tamara Abdul Hadi (www.tamarabdulhadi.com)

Yassin Alsalman, better known by his stage name The Narcicyst (or Narcy), is an Iraqi-Canadian journalist and Hip Hop MC. 

MH: Tell us about how you got into rapping? What inspired you? How’d it start?

It really all started with a Wu-tang Tape. That eventually became an obsession with Hip-Hop culture and its ability to mix and match independent experiences into one ‘brand’ or movement. My life has been a jumbled traveller experience, so I went from there and started just documenting the culture. Back in the 256K modem days, I would go online and download images and create folders of my favorite artists with their lyrics, album covers, just anything I could find. Eventually I started recording in my room flipping segments of instrumentals I would find online and looping them. I would record to that on a two-tape Sony stereo with my boys. Writing took over for years. I moved back to Canada in 2000, hit the studio with my brothers-from-another-mother SandhiLL and started recording. The rest, as they say, is mystory.

  MH: What topics or issues guide inspire your music?

 At first, I was very influenced by politics. I would spend hours digging the past and how it has affected the present, then write songs. After 9/11, we really started defending our origins, religion and distancing ourselves from senseless acts of violence and speaking out against the unjust invasions of the early 2000s. As of late, I’ve been digging into my personal past, and taking from day to day experiences in Canada and building narratives that are relatable. We are an international population, that of the Diaspora. I believe that this shapes my new music more than anything; the people I meet at shows and around the world on my travels, that belong nowhere and everywhere at once. The limitless immigrants.

MH: Your music style is unique—what influences the sound of your music? Your cultural background? Your faith? Your life experiences?

I am heavily influenced by classical music, layering different genres and sounds. I can record a sound from the streets and use it in my music. I think definetely the ‘ethos’ behind my music comes from my religion, but it isn’t the main body of influence to my work. Like I said, I am an amalgamation of so many cultural by-products, and so is my music. I get bored easily, so I like my music to be rich and push my own boundaries, as well as those that the public expect of a “hip-hop artist”. It’s all about jumping through boxes. and back out of them.

 

MH: Are there any artists who inspired you or influence your style of music?

So many……I also consider writers and ‘intellectuals’ artists. They have a way of presenting thoughts that make you want to learn more. That is an art in itself. My influence grows daily, so there isn’t one specific person. The world is the best place to find inspiration.

 MH: What role does hip hop or music play in educating listeners about topics and issues not usually spoken about?

I think hip-hop is one of the most versatile artforms and cultures. That is both a gift and a curse. A gift because it can directly transport someone to another experience, another world, another reality. It serves as a document of the juxtapositions you can experience in modern society and its pitfalls/achievements. It’s a curse because it can be a self-destructive form of music as well, which can be blamed on an industry, or the individual. At the end of the day, Human nature, as a practice, is both self-involved, destructive and beautiful and community driven. Hip-Hop has no inhibitions, it is a place where you can be yourself, or be someone else.

 MH: What has the response been to your more critical lyrics about political and social issues? 

I never worry about peoples reactions.  You are always going to have the good and the bad. But what I did notice about being uber-political at all times, is it invites that destructive and divisive energy into your home. We, as Hyphenated-Arab artists, are learning to channel those emotions and experiences to share them as growing experiences, as opposed to defensive stances. I think, once we learn that art, we will thrive internationally. It’s still early but I think we will get there in the next couple of years.

MH: How do you balance your Western identity with your Iraqi identity?

Like a Juggler! I’m split in half, I really don’t think about it anymore! I love it!

 MH: Do you feel there’s more of an appreciation for hip hop with meaning and positive messages or is there still a long way to go for artists like yourself to get your message out to more mainstream listeners?

I think there is a balance. I am not a preacher, nor am I a politician, nor am I perfect. I think being self-aware, critical and at the same time funloving, is the best way to approach creativity. That way you grow, the viewer grows. It’s a beautiful transformation.

 MH: There are some people who say that hip hop has a negative influence on the youth and encourages the wrong values and lifestyle for the youth and overall is a bad influence on the youth. What are your thoughts?

 I say those people have a one track mind. Music in general has the ability to sway people in two directions. It all depends on the people taking it in, and their circumstances. I think we should blame violence on our societal values and how its reflected in our media and arts. TV is the most violent medium on the mind, so I would look at CSI and stuff like that before I would look at music. Violence is perverse, people are attracted to it. It’s hard to blame one genre for it. I also believe that justifies the outside worlds actions against people of ‘ethnic’ origin. It’s a way of demeaning the power of the displaced. Because we are truly free, devoid of the boundaries of the programmed world.

MH: If there were a mainstream artist you’d like to do a collaboration with who would it be with and why?

I don’t really believe in mainstream vs. underground. Success is deemed by your actions and how far you can take it. I would love to collaborated musically with Kanye, lyrically with Kendrick Lamar, Lupe, Sade, Erykah Badu. There are so many, the sky is the limit. I’ve been blessed to have met and hung out with some of my favorite artists, and I would rather share a meal with someone and talk, then to only work with them.

 MH: What’s your favorite song you’ve produced and why? 

I would say, my favorite song would be something coming up on my next album. The best feeling is finishing a song and saying “wow, where did that come from”. The new stuff is alot different to my old work. I love and hate everything I make. haha!

 MH: What advice would you give to individuals who want to pursue a career in hip hop or music like yourself?

Be Yourself. Realise you are not the best, but strive to be the best you can be. Don’t compete with anyone but yourself. Don’t follow trends, set your own standard. And always think about the repercussions of your words. How will you feel about this music ten years from now? Short term solutions can lead to long term problems.

 MH: How can we keep up-to-date with your music and support your work?

Follow me at @TheNarcicyst on twitter, look up ‘The Narcicyst’ on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Narcicyst/90624925723) and join my page.  Soundcloud me. All that! Follow my crew @WeAreTheMedium on twitter and facebook as well. We have some really really really fun stuff coming up this year! LOVE!

MH Exclusive: Yusuf Misdaq

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Yusuf Misdaq is a multimedia artist, writer, creative consultant, and is founder of the arts website Nefisa, which also doubles as an independent media label- Nefisa UK.

MH: You’ve got a pretty unique cultural background, can you tell us more about your unique cultural background?

My parents are Afghan, from Afghanistan, and I grew up in a beach town called Brighton in England. It was a nice place, and we were the first Afghan family there. 

 MH: How does your faith and cultural background influence your work?

Well I’m not unlike lots of Muslims raised mostly in the West in that my faith and even cultural background have been blurred slightly by echoes of displacement, and all of the insecurity that comes with that. You find yourself in a constant state of searching and yearning and trying to find out what is authentic, what feels real and true, in both the cultural and spiritual aspect, and of course this path is one that can be walked parallel with the path of artistic expression. I think taken as a whole, the Muslim community also doesn’t really know who it is at large, and that’s reflected in the disunity we sometimes see creeping in. Everyone is claiming to be the middle way and the voice of reason, but claims are one thing.  

MH: What role do you feel art plays in the world? Can it be a tool for education? Social change?

 

Yes it is, all of those. It can also be a tool for ego and selfishness too. So as artists we have to constantly keep ourselves in check, and be around others who keep us in check. We’ve got to make sure we remember that our goal is no different to that of a taxi driver or a ticket salesman, i.e. to constantly serve other humans.

 

 MH: In recent times, Muslim artists have been primarily defined by calligraphy. What other forms of art do you feel are becoming more appreciated and recognized in the Muslim community?

 

Any forms of art that are wholesome are quickly accepted by the community. A community is just that, a community. It’s easy to be in the comfort of your own home and make art, but that’s also not very conducive to getting other people to invest their time in your work. I spent far too long isolated and working on my own art when I was living in the UK, simply because I didn’t feel there was a community for me at that time, and I suffered a lot because of that. But the beautiful thing about America is that the traditional community spirit is very much alive here in many ways, and so, if you know someone from your community, and they are given the chance to display their talent, it is usually appreciated and potentially supported too.

 

MH: In what ways can we educate the Muslim community about its artistic history, increase its artistic innovation and creativity?

 

Muslims can read more hadith and the quran instead of relying on the conjecture of others, doing so will also lay the foundation for them to be far more educated about art, art history and positive innovations in creative, social spheres (all things which tend to thrive when traditional Islam is being implemented); likewise, when a distorted or muddled Islam becomes the norm, those are usually the first things that get wiped out. Being an Afghan, I have seen this quite starkly in my own country. Regarding music, the most contentious issue, we have to be brave enough to face it fully, to face ourselves honestly, and understand the issues fully, at least to the best of our abilities. The unexamined life isn’t worth living, and if anyone out there has ever found themselves feeling conflicted about whether music is okay or not, they should put down whatever they’re doing and look into it. I did. Al-Ghazzali is probably the most reliable and trustworthy source to read regarding the permissibility of music, so my recommendation would be to use him as your starting point. What he says is both uncompromising, incredibly enlightened and subtle at the same time.

 

MH: As a Muslim artist you have quite a unique direction—you’ve done writing, film making and art. What out of those three is your favorite and why?

 

Those mediums are all just different strands of life; life is my favorite :) I’m very grateful to be alive and to have fingers and a voice that I can use for good. There’s nothing unique about making art, pictures, or writing (or rather, there shouldn’t be) – I think the wider ones eyes become to life, both the inner and outer forms of it, the more one is compelled to write and sing about it. It’s brilliant.

 

MH: How did you learn all of your different modes of artistic expression? Were you self-taught or did you have formal education in film, writing and art? 

 

I have an MA in documentary filmmaking, although I have been writing and making music for far longer. Painting and writing and music have all been learned through great masters that I loved, observing their work, imitating it in some ways, and then just carrying on. I wish I had more time to spend with each of them in my week but life pulls you in so many different directions.I was recently fortunate to stay with two amazing wood-carvers in New Mexico for some weeks, Binyamin van Hattum and Omar Cashmere, both of whom are masters of their craft who contributed significantly to the famous Mosque in Abiquiu (they’re both Muslim too). I was really just blessed to be able to watch them, each in their own workshops, doing what they do for somewhat extended periods of time, and I did my best to pick up some of the very basic fundamentals. So, I have been delving much more into wood sculpting and also clay sculpture in the last year or so, which has been a lifelong ambition and one I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to start at such a young age.

 

 MH: What type of art do you feel personally helps you best express yourself, your ideas and your thoughts?

 

Any art that comes from the heart. Art and heart rhyme :)

 

MH: Tell us more about Nefisa. What is it?

Nefisa-UK, in its current form, is a media label that I originally founded in 2002. It’s a small company that publishes books, novels, poetry, and releases and distributes music as well as other artworks. This year we had our very first American intern, Benneh Massaquoi, who has been a real blessing to have on board, and we’ve been working on a lot of exciting projects together, including the new Kindle e-book releases of my first two novels, which just recently came out.

MH: Do you feel there’s a revival of appreciation for art in the Muslim community?  

 Not really. People like to talk about it a lot, because talking about art and creativity really helps those in authority positions look open-minded and culturally sophisticated. When you start to see really great quality art coming from Muslims as the norm and not the exception, then you will know that both appreciation, good taste, and support for the arts in the Muslim community will have increased dramatically. As it is, artists of real quality are quite few and far between, and most of them are fighting a battle with the scales tipped heavily against them, both monetarily and, from within their own society, culturally. I mean, just imagine if a taxi driver had to carry around people in the back of his car who kept on leaning forward and telling him that taxi-driving was a haram profession, or hinting subtly that what he did was not a real or respectable job. He would still drive every day, because he had to, but it would get him down after a while and make it tougher to do what he does well. As I said before, the Muslim community hasn’t really come to grips with who it is and what it wants to be, especially here in the West. When it does that, the love will be felt much stronger and everyone will benefit.

MH: Tell us more about your book, Pieces of a Paki, what is it about, what inspired you to write it?

It’s my first novel. It came out in 2007 and everyone who reads it really likes it. Go in with an open mind and you will too. It recently came out as a Kindle e-book, which you can get on Amazon.  

MH: You have a new album out this year called IF YOU ASK ME, YES! which came out on February 14th of this year, can you tell us more about this album and what it’s about?

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It’s about the power of being and staying positive in the face of a crumbling society. It’s music that I sculpted out of love for people, and a desire to see people happy. I have spent a lot of time working in the media, and I’ve seen first hand how humanity is in a daily tug of war between optimism and pessimism. Between faith and what they would call “reality as it is”. I see things a little differently, and so, along with a lot of musical influence from my time in Malawi, I was blessed to be able to make this album to express my ideas. In it, I am telling everyone that it is going to be all right, that love will win, essentially.  

MH: If you could work with any artist in any artistic field who would you want to work with and why?

Ishmael Butler, who is the MC for the group Shabazz Palaces. He’s the greatest artist alive in Hip-Hop today and has been for quite a long time. Yasin bey would also definitely be in the conversation too, I respect them both a whole lot. I’d also love to work for Terrance Malick in any capacity, whenever it is that he makes his next film. I like always being a student.

MH: What advice would you give to aspiring artists who would like to pursue the same career path as yourself?

If your will is strong, prove it. If you have the desire, then prove it. Make something, and bring it to the world, if you want to. It’s not easy, but if you can do it, you’ll smile at the end, and all your ends will start to become beginnings.  

MH: How  can we keep up with your work and support your work? 

You can keep me in your prayers and if you have a couple of bucks to spare at the end of your day then you can purchase and engage with my works. They’re like little flower ornaments, my artworks, not too big and messy, but just lovely small nuggets of gold and turquoise that you can ingest and enjoy.The books and albums are all available on Amazon, iTunes, etc. If you read some of the user-reviews on Amazon or other reviews on other websites, you’ll find a common thread from people is that they tend to feel inspired to make their own artworks after reading or listening to my stuff. Engaging yourself with sincere artworks nearly always has that transmitting effect, I get it all the time with artists I am curious about. Being successful is, as I’m constantly learning, all about becoming involved in the world around you.
www.ymisdaq.bandcamp.com  / music and visual arts

253. Yuna (Musician, Malaysia)

Yuna, a singer/song-writer from Malaysia and is known for her hit single “Live Your Life” produced by Pharrell Williams.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/2012/06/07/yuna/k8opNlFLSZmIVghjEn8l3N/story.html

http://www.mtviggy.com/interviews/yuna-malaysias-sweetheart-charms-the-world/

http://www.billboard.com/news/yuna-talks-career-start-pharrell-williams-1006847752.story#/news/yuna-talks-career-start-pharrell-williams-1006847752.story

http://www.npr.org/2011/04/12/135347393/yuna-a-flawless-voice-from-malaysia

http://www.yunamusic.com/

233. Baraka Blue (Spoken Word Artist, Remarkable Current)

Baraka Blue is an emcee and spoken word artist residing in Oakland Ca. Part of Muslim musicians collective Remarkable Current, Baraka Blue has performed all over the US as well as the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. His first album, “Sound Heart” was released in 2010. He is acclaimed for his original synthesis of spoken word poetry with the tradition of Sufi poets such as Rumi and Hafiz. His book of poetry, entitled “Disembodied Kneelings,” was recently published by Remarkable Current Collective Editions. In addition to his performances he has taught classes and led creative writing workshops internationally. Baraka Blue is currently pursuing his Masters Degree with a focus on Sufism and Psychology. His sophmore album “Majunun’s Lost Memoirs” will be released soon.

http://barakabluemusic.com/

229. Raef (Artist, Awakening Records)

Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Maryland, Raef is a singer-songwriter, educator, and musician. He has performed across the United States and is known for his unique lyricism and acoustic sound. Blending American folk-rock musicality with Eastern melodic patterns, Raef’s music moves seamlessly between commercially accessible rock tunes, and introspective folk songs.

Over the years Raef has shared his music with faith-based communities across the world. With the heart of a teacher, the sensitivity of a poet, the perspective of a traveler, and the spirit of a rock ‘n roller, Raef’s music expands the narrow category of “religious songs” (nasheed) with songs that transcend one-dimensional spiritual themes— reflecting instead on the greater human search for inspiration and purpose.

Raef believes that true, pure, and sincere music can go beyond the realm of “entertainment” and should open new doors of wonder and inspiration. Positive faith-based music should deepen spiritual insight and most importantly, provide the soundtrack for the human journey towards the Divine.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/13/islamic-singers-western-hits

212. Sound of Reason (Artists, Canada)

From the depths of Canada’s music scene comes a brand new sound the industry has been craving to hear. In less than a year since releasing their first full length album Francis and Ku aka The Sound of Reason are quickly building up a worldwide movement with their harsh and opinionated brand of fusion music. From working with top international artists to being featured as MTV’s artist of the month The Sound of Reason are independently gaining the attention of fans across the world with one goal in mind… change the direction of the mainstream.

https://twitter.com/soundofreason

https://www.facebook.com/thesoundofreason