by Elana Spivack
Syrian-American hip-hop artist and humanitarian philanthropist Omar Offendum offers a potent combination of political statement and fire-spitting rap. Born in Saudi Arabia, Offendum moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 4, and now lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he works on his music when he’s not touring to spread political consciousness of the Middle East. Myriad news outlets, from Aljazeera to the New York Times, have covered his work. He is currently touring to promote his latest solo release, SyrianamericanA. He will perform at the Horn Gallery tomorrow, April 3 at 10 p.m.
Do you primarily consider yourself a political activist or an artist?
I would probably say an artist who recognizes what I consider a responsibility. It comes with the responsibility of wanting to effect positive change within my community and the world at large.
Who influences you?
Artists I listen to [influence] me. When I was in college, Black on Both Sides by Mos Def and Reflection Eternal by Talib Kweli really elevated the conscious level of hip-hop. That in addition to what I was reading by being in college.
What points do you focus on primarily in your music?
When I first started, I was recognizing a need to just expose people to Arab or Muslim ideas that were different from what they might have been given in the mainstream and that were obviously a negative impression. I think [now] people recognize my desire to create a safe space for everybody to feel comfortable, to feel proud of however they may identify or not identify.
What do you hope to accomplish with music and political activism?
I try to make people understand that yes, I am Syrian, so I might maybe have to care a little bit more than that average person, but the real truth of it is that Syria should matter to everybody. It’s the birthplace of so much that we know and we cherish.
[I‘ve embarked] on my second album. A lot of these ideas are extensions of conversations I’ve had with [my mentor]. One of the biggest [ideas] that he instilled in us was that home is not where your grandparents are buried; home is where your grandchildren will be born and raised, and that’s something that helped me really be comfortable planting my roots here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.