6Qs with MC Omar Offendum //
Omar Offendum is welcoming us to SyrianamericanA, a place where lyrics lure you into “cardamom strong,” and a nostalgic journey for home and history will light your senses on fire. Perk up your ears, and just try to catch up with the speed of Omar’s seemingly effortless riffs as the prolific lyricist searches for the “Arab Superhero.” I interviewed the self-described “old soul,” before his Los Angeles performance (an absolute must for music lovers and anyone interested in witnessing a hip-hop revival) where a calm, conversational demeanor quickly morphed for a profoundly energetic live show. With a foundation in architecture, and a refreshingly conscious supporter of the green movement, Offendum is literally and metaphorically building bridges.
Hip-Hop Album: Outkast – Aquemini
Best food joint from your travels: Kaza Maza in Montreal (Beet Root Moutabal & Pistachio Kabob)
Poet that comes to mind right now: Pablo Neruda
1. This is your first solo album. Can you talk about the transition from previous albums to SyrianamericanA?
Yes, this is the first time I’ve done an album entirely myself. Everything else prior has been collaboration, whether with Mr. Tibbz and the NOMADS, which was the first album I did, or the Arab Summit, or Free the P. Everything is a step to learn from, and build on. It took the making of those albums to find my own voice. Working with those guys and performing around the world, I was able to find what I was comfortable performing by not saying the type of messages I was well equipped to deliver, or saying ones I felt were not necessarily my thing. So yea, I definitely found my comfort zone on this album, where I’ve been able to tell stories that describe my worldview that go back and forth between the Middle East and the U.S.
2. Your audience is a part of a community that’s all over the place, who can understand being “back and forth.” Does that inspire the album?
Exactly. It’s not such a unique feeling to be spread out across the globe, but something everyone can relate to nowadays, especially our community. Most of my immediate family lives in the Middle East. My mother and sister live in Damascus, and my other sister lives in Dubai. I have one brother who lives in Boston now. We are all over the place, and I think you get that feeling on this album when you hear it.
That back and forth is part of the album, but in a fluid way. It’s about finding a home wherever you are.
LISTEN to “Destiny” from SyrianamericanA and check the video out here >>
3. Describe SyrianamericanA.
SyrianamericanA is a nation-state of mind where everything is connected and everyone is welcome. It’s a trip to Syria through an American’s eyes, and a trip to America through a Syrian’s eyes.
I feel as American as I do Arab, and I think that’s clear on the album. And it’s done with respect to hip-hop, not as some Arabic fusion project. I’m proud that the lyrics stand on their own, but there’s also a lot of great production on the album. I made some of the beats, and a beat maker from Montreal by the name of Habilis also did quite a few of the beats. He does a really good job pulling beats from Barbara Streisand to Armando Manzanero, which sounds random but he knows how to create a mood. Some beats also came from an up and coming producer called Oddisee in D.C., and also beats from a kid living in Tunisia, who I met online. The Internet helps shrink the globe.
4. You breathe new life into the essence of hip-hop, and also bring back poets and artists of our parents’ generation like Nizar Qabbani…
I often try to tell stories on an album. I translate in both languages where I can switch from one to the other through poetry. I conjured up a story about three individuals I met on an ancient street in Damascus, one of the oldest streets in the world. There’s also an Arabic tale Magnoon Layla, an old story of star-crossed lovers that I thought would be cool to flip to a hip-hop song.
There generally is not a lot of storytelling in hip-hop these days, even though that’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to it. A lot of what I hear has to do with bragging, as opposed to continuing an ancient, oral tradition that really pre-dates hip-hop. Hip-hop is the modern incarnation of music like jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, or even older African and Middle Eastern traditions.
5. Is there a difference between your Arab audience in the Middle East and the U.S.?
There are similarities between both because both are well versed on all things Western. Middle Easterners watch American TV and listen to American music. Then you have people here [in the U.S.] sticking very closely to their Arab tradition and culture. Over the years, I’ve found that I can perform the same material anywhere I go, and because I’m comfortable representing an honest expression of myself wherever I am, I don’t have to change too much. I can perform the same stuff about Damascus in D.C. or Damascus, and people still appreciate the music and the message. I’ve performed in Arabic in the U.S., and Americans who don’t know what I’m saying tell me ‘that’ was their favorite song because it sounded different or was a faster rhythm. It’s not an entire set in Arabic, and they’re able to relate to everything else being said.
6. You’re part of what I call an underground mainstream. Can you speak to that?
I credit the Internet for making that possible, it’s shaken up the old record label system. There are only a handful of artists who are really huge and selling platinum records, and that’s not something you necessarily have to aspire to because you can build a core fan base and develop a following over the years.
You don’t have to compromise your own integrity or beliefs, and you can do it all at home because technology is much more accessible.
Also because of the internet, I can have fans here and in the Middle East. None of this was possible 10-15 years ago, when you would have needed to get your demo to a record label. And I’m really fortunate to have people who find my music entertaining and relevant enough to want to invite me to perform all over the world. I also think it’s important that the main bread and butter should come from performance. Anybody can put out an album, but I always felt there has to be promotion for what you can really offer. I personally feel it forces you to work on your craft.
About the Author: Born and raised in Southern CA, Lana Daoud can find herself at home just about anywhere. She has a degree in History with a minor in Middle East Studies, and is currently a fellow of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership For Change based in Los Angeles. Home is where the next great experience lies, heart belongs to her nieces, roots are in Palestine.