Egyptian-Canadian queer artist Yasmeen Kamal (aka MC Jazz) was born in Kuwait in 1986, where Kamal’s Egyptian parents had moved to pursue work opportunities. However, the timing could not have been worse: the Gulf War broke out in 1989.
The family fled back to Egypt, and these years of strife and movement have influenced Kamal’s work. The struggles of adaptation, acceptance and survival resurfaced when her family immigrated to Canada in 2000.
Xtra’s Parul Pandya chatted with MC Jazz recently in Toronto.
Xtra: What are the biggest cultural differences between your homeland and Canada?
MC Jazz: I noticed that youth are pushed to be more independent in Canada at a younger age. However, I also noticed there is a greater emphasis and expressiveness with regards to sexuality. When I came here I felt the pressures of the media and my peers to look and act a certain way in order to be accepted as a “girl,” and even now as a woman. Through my music I hope to spread the message that even though these pressures do exist, you can still stay true to yourself and not adhere to them.
How did you get your start as a poet and MC?
What drove me to start writing was the feeling that everything I felt my entire life was being internalized. We couldn’t really say how we felt or the fact that we lived in constant fear. There was definitely a sense of not being able to speak up when you wanted to. So I found, as most young people do at first, solace in documenting my own experiences in the world I lived in.
Describe your musical influences and your personal lyrical style.
As I started to experience music in other languages and styles, I started to realize that my writing did not just have to take the form of poetry. I could speak my words the way I wanted to, in a way that was musical to me, which is why I gravitated to hip hop and spoken word. I draw inspiration from the old days of hip hop, when the lyrics had a message and were born from the day-to-day struggle. I use my lyrics as a vehicle to convey this message and also educate.
Why is this the right time to drop your first LP, The Queer Hip-Hop Movement? What sort of topics does the LP tackle?
I feel like the world is slowly imploding, and I feel like people are tired of being silenced, as am I. Also, I feel like the music industry has gone on for way too long to only have a small percentage of queer artists who are speaking out and relating to the growing queer audience. We are still quite underrepresented. So I feel that opening the topic and possibility of a queer hip-hop movement may lead to a bigger conversation and change in mainstream music.
Does being queer, Muslim and a female MC present any particular challenges to your ambition as an artist?
It definitely presents many challenges, as most people see those three descriptions as contradictions of one another. Being a female MC is already difficult enough, in the sense of gaining respect as a good lyricist and rapper, especially in a male-dominated genre. As a queer woman, there are, of course, many stereotypes that are placed upon me, just as it is with being a Muslim woman. It allows me to explore new territory in rap music that has not necessarily been discussed before.
Your music has a strong message about inclusivity; can you please explain why this drives you?
The more I experience life the more I see how we treat each other based on social scales and stereotypes, which actually alienates certain groups of people. I am trying to speak out against all the levels of bullying that exist in our world today and convey a different truth.
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