December 13th, 2006 12:14 EST
Muslim-American Rappers Promote Tolerance in Middle East
Washington " When Native Deen took hip-hop music to Jerusalem in fall 2006, the group of Muslim-American rappers was moved deeply by the holiness of the place and the energy of the hundreds of teens who attended their concerts. Yet nothing came close to the connection the performers felt to their faith during their Middle East trip.
I could feel it in the stone and the rocks, " said Naeem Muhammad of Native Deen, a Muslim-American hip-hop group based near Washington that has a strong following in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Our music inspires Muslims to be better Muslims, but it also gives other people a better view of our faith, " Joshua Salaam told USINFO in an interview.
The rhythm is there, and the beat is contemporary. But the heart of inspirational hip-hop music is in the powerful rap lyrics coaxing listeners to live better lives and be better people.
Native Deen traveled to Turkey, Dubai, the Palestinian Territories and Israel on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, incorporating the teachings of Islam into songs about respect and humanity. At all the concerts, the performers were greeted like American superstars, " they said. In Dubai, Native Deen won the 2006 Mahabba Award at an event showcasing musicians, artists and filmmakers inspired to spread Islam through art.
The group, founded in 2000, is known for its positive energy, use of traditional percussion and lyrics focused on tolerance and the teachings of Islam.
We use the Quran as a source of guidance for us when we write our songs, " said Abdul Malik. We use the morals and guidelines that we find in the Quran to teach people and to guide people. " This means that the beat, or rhythm, comes second, according to Salaam. The lyrics are the most important aspect of the song, so in Native Deen`s sound, the rap is always in front of the percussion.
Deen " is the Arabic word for religion, " or way of life.
The group`s members met when they were in their early teens in Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) camps, most often in Ohio, where only percussion instruments were allowed because some Muslims believe that wind and string instruments should be avoided in Islam. Influenced by African-American culture, Salaam, Muhammad and Malik used beatboxing, " or vocal percussion, and tapping on lunchroom tables to develop with their friends the first Muslim hip-hop sounds that came to be known as MYNA rap. All three Native Deen members can be heard on the MYNA Raps recordings of the early 1990s, but by 2000, Native Deen had set out on its own to record and perform inspirational and spiritual hip-hop.
In the Palestinian Territories and Jerusalem, Native Deen received positive feedback from young people attending the concerts who were impressed that the group uses live drums and percussion instead of electronic tracks. American hip-hop artists often collaborate with international musicians, incorporating traditional instruments and ethnic music. (See related article.)
We take homegrown instruments and make them work, " Salaam said. The largest challenge for the group is that it performs raps in English. Although in Turkey the group translated some of the raps, Salaam said it was able to see in its audiences that music bridges the language gap.
[Audiences] might have anti-American sentiment, " Muhammad said. But they believe in democracy, and they saw us as Muslims who are able to live in America and practice our faith. We got very positive feedback. "
Salaam, who served in the U.S. military in the Air Force, hopes the group will continue to travel internationally because he sees hip-hop as a way to open doors and to encourage religious tolerance and respect.
The rappers performed three concerts in the West Bank, including Al-Quds University in Abu Deis, a village near Jerusalem, in Hebron and Jericho.
Hip-hop began in the United States 30 years ago in the South Bronx, a borough of New York City. Using turntables to spin old, worn records, teens began to talk over music, mostly on the streets and in basements in what were called block parties, creating an entirely new music genre and dance form. This "talking over," or MCing (rapping) or DJing (audio mixing or scratching), became the essence of rap. (See related article.)
Native Deen audio clips, song lyrics and other information are available on the group`s Web site.
For additional information about life in America, see The Arts and Population and Diversity.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)