An interview with Omar Offendum
By Mahwish Jabeen.
The hugely talented and inspirational Syrian-American hip hop artist Omar Offendum will be performing in Manchester on Friday, November 18 for an event named ‘Reliving the Revolution’; proceeds will be donated to people who have been affected by the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. His performance is part of a week-long event at the University of Manchester in solidarity with the Arab Spring.
I was very excited to be interviewing the man himself for PULP, to find out more about him.
PULP: Explain the name Offendum.
Omar: It’s definitely a play on words. “Offendum” in the Middle East, in Syria and in Turkey means ‘sir’ or ‘lord’.
It’s like a respectable kinda title so it’s often you’ll hear it used in a conversation between an elder and a younger person, somebody who is perhaps serving you at a restaurant. So it’s like a title of nobility. And you know the way that I spell that in English with an ‘O’, you know ‘Offendum’ kinda conjures the offensive imagery that people tend to associate with people from the Middle East. By flipping it like that, having something mean something so respectful on one side of the world and so seemingly disrespectful on the other side of the world. I thought that kind of embodied the representation of my people that I try to battle through my lyricism, so that’s kinda where that came from. I think at the end of the day people recognise the fact that I’m not that offensive, so the irony of it is not lost.
P: Why did you decide to pursue music?
O: Well, I studied architecture in school and have been working as an architect for eight years and have been pursuing music for just as long. I started really performing and making beats, participating in hip hop culture when I got into University. So they kinda went hand in hand for me and as of late I’ve been focusing more on the music just because I feel like there is a window of opportunity for artists like myself and Lowkey and Shadia Mansour to capitalise on people’s attention and try to drive that attention to something positive. I love architecture, I love art in general. I consider myself an artistic person it’s the matter of using that same side of the brain really to me, to be a multi disciplinary artist so it’s just something else that I enjoy doing. As far as the architecture is concerned I can see myself pursuing in the long run a lot more that perhaps rapping on stage. So, I like to keep all options open and stay as productive as possible.
P: Who were your musical inspirations?
O: When I was younger I had definitely hip hop playing on the radio and so growing up in Washington DC it was a big part of the sonic back drop if you will. Artists like, Public Enemy, so highly politicised hip hop artists caught my ear at first. Also artists like Nas and others showed me there are different ways of expressing through this art form we call Hip hop. Their styles are very different but they all ultimately speak from an honest experience which is something I appreciate. I also listened to a lot of reggae growing up and enjoyed the conscious of reggae music, you know Bob Marley, Dennis Brown etcetera they were pretty influential. And as far as Arabic music, my parents listened Arabic classical music so it influenced me in terms of the sounds and the styles that I was sampling when I made beats. As for today, artists like The Narcicyst, Lowkey and Shadia Mansour inspire me.
P: How important do you feel music is for today’s generation?
O: I think it’s important considering the fact that music is a universal language and hip hop culture is universal culture, you know it’s everywhere. I’ve had the opportunity to perform everywhere and I have seen it manifest in many different beautiful ways from refugee camps in the Middle East to the inner city here in the US. And I think when an artist really holds true to themselves and their experience I think it shines through and people are drawn to that. Unfortunately in the mainstream that doesn’t seem to be the case as often as it should, so people are interested in an artist for that reason because they feel like they can relate to them. I think that breaks down a lot of barriers especially at a time when at a time, for me, I see the misrepresentation of my culture in the media constantly happening to be able to combat that with this art form that is accepted worldwide. It’s not only empowering for the person listening to it but also the artist that is making it. Talking about all these issues that are miss represented like Palestine or the way Muslims are represented or just the state of the world, the economy etcetera. To have that freedom and to have that responsibility, I don’t take it lightly. It’s important, it’s relevant and it’s timely and I hope to carry it on for as long as I possibly can.
P: You made a track called #Jan 25 about the Egyptian revolution, how do you feel about the Arab revolutions in general?
O: I don’t collapse all the revolutions into one; I think situations are very different. Egypt is different to Libya; Libya is different to Syria etcetera and it would be a huge disservice to each of those places to collapse them into one experience. There are similarities but there are also a lot of differences. As far as the revolutions themselves are concerned I think I mention often what we learn from them is that we can’t really predict anything. It’s impossible to say what is going to happen with any certainty. The dictator falling is only the first step, and there is much work to be done.