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Monday, January 20, 2014

Syrian-American Rapper Focuses On Violence In Syria

Omar Offendum performs at the 2012 Doha Tribeca Film Festival on November 18, 2012 in Doha, Qatar. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Doha Film Institute)

Omar Offendum performs at the 2012 Doha Tribeca Film Festival on November 18, 2012 in Doha, Qatar. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Doha Film Institute)

You may have heard of Omar Offendum, the 31-year-old Syrian-American rapper who made a song about the Arab Spring called #Jan25 that was released just days before the overthrow of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Now, he’s focusing his music on his parents’ home country of Syria. He joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss his music and what it’s been like to watch the conflict from the U.S.

Omar Offendum is also acting in an upcoming stage play, dedicated to the Muslim community leader Dr. Maher Hathout, at the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles. And he’s acting in a film called “A to B,” about a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut.

Interview Highlights: Omar Offendum

On growing up in America and seeing conflicts come and go in the news

“Starting to see a conflict in Syria, a country I know very well — my father, may God rest his soul, is from Hama and my mother from Damascus, so I’ve been there many times in my life. So all of a sudden, starting to see and hear people with voices that were familiar to me and accents that were familiar to me, and seeing the imagery of the destruction of places that I know, it just really really hits home. But at the same time, I can see how the average American gets overwhelmed by it and doesn’t really know how to relate, how to be involved with it. And ultimately, gets numb to it. … I feel that as someone of Syrian decent, this type of situation, which is so tragic, that there’s an opportunity for us to do something, and not just because I’m Syrian, but because I am American.”

On his music endangering his family

“My family received a warning by virtue of me even making music about Egypt and being on Al Jazeera. So it was very difficult and for me to know I’m sitting here in the comfort of my home in Los Angeles and putting out something that could affect someone’s life, someone so important to me, you know, halfway across the world, it was a very difficult – you know, very difficult thing to do.”

On sharing his music with his family

“I remember the first day I actually recorded something and came over to my sister’s place and played it for her. My mother wasn’t there yet, but you know a few minutes later when we were playing the song, she walks in and says ‘Huh, who is this African-American rapper talking about Palestine?’ And my sister looks over at her and she’s like ‘Oh that’s your son Omar.’ … I don’t think she expected it, but she was also the one who kinda instilled a real love for and a real deep appreciation for poetry and for spoken word, specifically Arabic poetry and all of that sort of slowly infused in the sponge that was my brain and kind of became Omar Offendum.”


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