Hip-hop artist Omar Offendum uses music to bridge Syrian-American divide

Hip-hop artist Omar Offendum uses music to bridge Syrian-American divideimage

30 Oct 2015

He was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Washington, DC, and is currently living in Los Angeles, California.

A Muslim growing up in the West, Offendum has strove to use hip-hop as a bridge to reconcile two sides of his identity.

“I found that hip-hop had the unique ability to speak to the marginalised voices in society,” he said.

But it was while he was studying architecture at the University of Virginia when the 9/11 terrorism attacks occurred in New York City, that hip-hop’s strength really took hold for Offendum.

“I realised I could use it as a tool to bridge these two seemingly opposed sides of my identity together at a time when it seemed like the media was bent on tearing them apart,” he said.

Offendum studied Arabic and English at school, and became particularly influenced by Arabic poetry — he now sings in both languages about his own experiences as an Arab-American and the complex relationship between two worlds. Ten years later, and Offendum’s other home country, Syria, began to tear at the seems as the Arab Spring slowly transformed into the full-blown war tearing the country apart.

“It is absolutely devastating,” he said.

“I feel like there is a sense of responsibility for people like myself in these positions who have followers and fans around the world who want some kind of way to understand and make sense of what’s happening to a certain degree, even though it is difficult to do so.”

A big part of Offendum’s work now involves speaking in universities, and trying to establish more nuanced discussions.

He also strives to use his music to raise awareness of the crisis in Syria and raising money for humanitarian relief efforts.

“I also want to remind people is Syria is the birth place of so many aspects of our civilisation we perhaps neglect to mention,” he said.

“The first alphabet, musical notation, mosques, synagogues … so being Syrian is something you can carry with you all over the world and every citizen of this earth can feel a bit of responsibility towards helping to preserve.”

Offendum is currently in Australia on tour as a guest for the Council for Australian-Arab Relations and US Studies Centre for a series of performances and lectures.